Scottish sites at forefront in race to find vaccine

A leading science and technology company is using three of its sites in Scotland to provide critical ingredients and testing for the development of ground-breaking Covid-19 vaccines.

Merck Scottish sites at forefront of race to find Covid-19 vaccine.
Merck Scottish sites at forefront of race to find Covid-19 vaccine.

Merck are supplying several chemicals that control pH levels of the vaccine mixture to leading virus programmes from their facility in Irvine, Ayrshire.

The company which also has two biosafety testing services sites in Glasgow and Stirling has extensive experience of supporting vaccine development from regular campaigns such as the annual flu jab through to acute health global health issues like the 2014-2016 Ebola epidemic in West Africa.

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There are a wide range of safety tests needed throughout the life cycle of any vaccine or therapeutic, from early development through to final production and release, to ensure they are safe for human use.

Scientists at Merck’s Glasgow and Stirling sites perform these essential safety tests on Covid-19 vaccine candidates – from ensuring the vaccine is free from viruses or bacteria, to confirming the correct viral DNA is present in the vaccine.

Traditional testing methods, which rely on cell culture, can take up to 56 days.

But Merck is helping to speed up the testing process by providing newer rapid testing methods which are based on molecular biology, slashing the testing time to less than 14 days.

This will be critical in helping to accelerate vaccine development and release, allowing products to get to the market faster.

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David McClelland, Head of EU Biologics Operations at Merck, said: “Our Scottish sites have rapidly shifted their priority to supporting Covid-19 vaccine and therapeutic developments.

“It’s taking a global effort to find a solution for this pandemic and here in Scotland we are supporting a number of companies to develop and produce an unprecedented amount of potential vaccines and therapeutics.

“We know how critical our work is to these development efforts, so we have taken robust measures to assure business continuity.

“ Our scientists have been split into three teams that never cross over with one another.

“This has two benefits. It means there are less people on site at any time to allow greater social distancing.

“It also ensures we can continue our critical work if a team member starts to show symptoms of Covid-19 and their whole team needs to quarantine.”

Merck has also been developing a manufacturing platform with The Jenner Institute at Oxford University over the past two years to speed up the manufacturing process of new vaccines. This joint project has developed a rapid, scalable platform that has reduced the vaccine development time from a year to two months – a critical step that has laid the foundation for large-scale production of the Covid-19 vaccine candidate developed by The Jenner Institute.

The BioReliance biosafety testing business in Glasgow has just secured a 14m€ investment for expansion within the West of Scotland Science Park.

McClelland added: “I am impressed on a daily basis by the commitment and endeavour of our employees.

“They have adapted to changing work patterns and all of the other demands that come from working in a socially-distanced environment with additional layers of PPE, but still managed to maintain their unwavering commitment to delivering high-quality products and services to our customers.

“This is not only essential to those customers working on Covid-19, but also those working on numerous other life-saving or life-changing vaccines and therapeutics.”

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