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Oxford University to get Poonawala vaccine research facility

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The University of Oxford has announced plans to establish a new Poonawalla Vaccines Research Building with a funding commitment of GBP 50 million from India’s Serum Life Sciences.

Serum Life Sciences is wholly-owned by the Poonawalla family, owners of the Adar Poonawalla-led Serum Institute of India, and the proposed research facility will focus on vaccinology, the university said on Wednesday.

The facility will be established at the university’s Old Road Campus, and will house over 300 research scientists.

It is expected to provide the focus and scale for the university’s major vaccine development programmes allowing a rapid, productive and timely expansion of this fast-growing translational area.

“I am delighted that through this generous gift, we will be able to further our work on vaccines which have proven so critical to global health. We will also ensure that we are never again caught unprepared for a global pandemic,” Professor Louise Richardson, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford.

“The university has longstanding ties with the Poonawalla family and we were delighted to confer an honorary degree on Cyrus Poonawalla in Summer 2019 in recognition of his extraordinary work manufacturing inexpensive vaccines for the developing world,” she said.

The Poonawalla Building will house the headquarters and main laboratory space of the Jenner Institute, the world-leading academic vaccine institute named after Edward Jenner, the father of vaccination.

The most recent Serum Institute-Jenner Institute collaboration saw the rapid development and global roll-out of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at scale, manufactured and administered in India as Covishield.

Further, Serum Institute and Jenner Institute collaborations include an agreement for Serum Institute to manufacture and develop, with large scale supply, the Jenner Institute’s new R21/Matrix-M malaria vaccine, currently in Phase III trials, prioritising countries with high malaria burdens.

Professor Adrian Hill, Director of the Jenner Institute at Oxford University, said: “The striking success of the collaborative programmes on both the malaria and COVID-19 vaccines between the Serum Institute of India and Oxford University has highlighted the great potential of partnerships between leading universities and large-scale manufacturers to develop and supply vaccines for very cost-effective deployment at exceptional scale.” The university said the donation reinforces and builds on the Serum Institute of India’s long-standing partnership with Oxford University.

“Vaccines save lives, and the development of vaccines has been the lifelong focus of the Poonawalla family. We are committed to developing and supplying vaccines to people who need them most,” said Natasha Poonawalla, Executive Director, Serum Institute of India.

“To make this happen, we build many scientific collaborations with the world’s leading research institutes but today, we are making this keystone donation to give the world-class team at Oxford a brand-new facility from which to take their research to the next level,” said the wife of Adar Poonawalla, CEO of Serum Institute of India.

The Poonawalla Vaccines Research Building will be built on the same site as the recently announced Oxford University Pandemic Sciences Centre.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us our strengths and weaknesses. Whilst we cannot eliminate risk, we have shown that innovation, determination and partnership can transform our ability to counter and constrain global health threats,” Professor Sir Peter Horby, Director, Pandemic Sciences Centre said.

“This generous gift will help create a world-leading hub for pandemic research and innovation; a scientific power-house dedicated to protecting health for all,” he added.

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