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Bingham to lead U.K. push for a COVID-19 vaccine

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The U.K. has picked longtime biotech investor Kate Bingham to chair the government’s Vaccine Taskforce, the latest example of the country deploying its industry expertise to combat COVID-19.

Bingham will report directly to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and will coordinate the work already under way across government agencies, academia and industry to rapidly develop vaccines, and ensure that manufacturing resources are in place to produce a vaccine in mass quantities both in the U.K. and around the world. She will temporarily step back from her role as managing partner at SV Health Investors.

In a May 1 guest commentary in BioCentury, Bingham outlined the ways the U.K. life sciences industry is meeting the moment via collaboration, creativity and resource commitment.

“Amid all the gloom are signs of a nascent revolution in how we create and develop new drugs, vaccines and diagnostics,” Bingham wrote. “It is data and science that will help us to combat this pandemic and restart economic activity,” she said, calling for further investment in education, academia and healthcare companies, and for the best practices emerging from this crisis to become embedded and built on in the future (see “The U.K. Healthcare Sector is Leveraging its Strengths to Beat COVID-19”).

Her appointment as chair comes one month after the task force was created, under the leadership of Patrick Vallance, chief scientific adviser to the U.K government, and Jonathan van Tam, deputy CMO for England. Other members include Oxford University’s John Bell, and representatives from AstraZeneca plc (LSE:AZN; NYSE:AZN) and the Wellcome Trust.

Vallance was previously CSO and president of R&D at GlaxoSmithKline plc (LSE:GSK; NYSE:GSK). Bell is a leading life sciences figure in the U.K., having led the publication of the life sciences industrial strategy report for the government in 2017.

The task force, which is working closely with the BioIndustry Association, is assessing the U.K.’s existing vaccine manufacturing capacity with the short-term goal of being able to produce millions of doses. The group aims to create capacity to deliver 25 million doses of vaccine over a 24-week period by 2023.

The U.K. has emerged as one of the leaders in the global push to develop countermeasures against the novel coronavirus. The country has committed £250 million ($310 million) to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation’s (CEPI) vaccine initiative, and will host a global pledging conference for Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, on June 4.

It is setting an example for the rest of the world in how to coordinate and promote master protocol trials, which many see as the fastest path to definitive answers on candidate therapies and vaccines for COVID-19 (see “U.K. Sets the Bar for COVID-19 Master Protocols”).

A vaccine being developed by University of Oxford’s Jenner Institute is among the furthest along in development. Fourteen other vaccines for COVID-19 are in the clinic, according to BioCentury’s COVID-19 Resource Center.

Oxford launched its Phase I trial of ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 on April 23. More than 1,000 individuals had volunteered as of May 13; the study will enroll more than 6,000 individuals. Data are expected this summer. Oxford aims to have its COVID-19 vaccine available for emergency use by September (see “End of the Beginning for COVID-19 vaccines”).

Oxford has also teamed up with AstraZeneca for vaccine manufacturing, commercialization and distribution and is collaborating with Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest manufacturer by volume of vaccines.

The U.K. biopharma industry is coordinating with the government and other entities on therapeutics as well. For example, AstraZeneca EVP of Biopharmaceuticals R&D Mene Pangalos told BioCentury in an April interview that AZ is in discussions about building up mAb manufacturing capacity, and plans to partner with governments, CMOs and other institutions in the regions where it ends up supplying compounds (see “What the Pharma Brings to the COVID-19 Fight,”).

Bingham has been in the industry for more than three decades. In her 28 years at SV, her investments have led to the launch of six drugs. Two of SV’s portfolio companies are re-tooling their drug discovery platforms to discover COVID-19 therapies: Bicycle Therapeutics plc (NASDAQ:BCYC) and Alchemab Therapeutics Ltd. Earlier in her career, Bingham was part of the business development team at Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc. (NASDAQ:VRTX) and served as a consultant with the Monitor Group.

Bingham also drove the creation of the Dementia Discovery Fund, an investment tool that aims to create drugs for Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia that tap novel mechanisms and go beyond the amyloid hypothesis. The fund closed with ₤250 million in 2018. Original investors include Biogen Inc. (NASDAQ:BIIB), Eli Lilly and Co. (NYSE:LLY), GSK, Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ), Pfizer Inc. (NYSE:PFE) and Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd. (Tokyo:4502; NYSE:TAK), alongside the U.K. Department of Health and the non-profit Alzheimer’s Research UK.

Bingham serves on the investment committee of the fund, which is managed by SV. She also serves on the board of the Francis Crick Institute as well as biotechs across Europe and in the U.S.

Her appointment comes the same week as vaccine veteran Moncef Slaoui was named head of the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed initiative, which is intended to fast-track COVID-19 vaccine development. Slaoui was previously chairman of the vaccines division at GSK and head of its pharmaceutical R&D; he retired from the pharma in 2017 (see “Former GSK Exec Slaoui to Lead Trump’s ‘Warp Speed’”).

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