US biotech Moderna – producer of a messenger RNA (mRNA) COVID-19 vaccine that has found its way into 75 million arms in the US alone and generated USD 12 billion in profit for the firm last year – has announced a new GBP one billion investment into a UK manufacturing centre.

The announcement of the UK’s first centre for the production of mRNA vaccines has been hailed by the British government as a sign of post-Brexit Britain’s continuing competitiveness within global life sciences as well as a key weapon in the country’s fight against future pandemics.

The mRNA vaccines produced by Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech have been shown to be highly effective in combating serious illness and death from COVID-19 and have brought in record revenues for the companies involved. mRNA technology also has a host of potential uses across other indications such as cancer.

While the UK prioritised the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine at the beginning of the pandemic, it never achieved the efficacy levels of its mRNA counterparts. The country’s government, led by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, will be hoping that Moderna’s new centre will ensure a domestic supply of mRNA vaccines moving forward.

The news comes as a ray of light in a difficult few months for the Johnson administration dominated by the ‘Partygate’ scandal, accusations of nepotism, and large-scale industrial action.

Johnson stated that the investment would “guarantee jabs in arms against some of the toughest viruses out there, bringing us to the forefront of the fight against future threats … We’ve all seen what vaccines can do, and today’s partnership brings us one step closer to finding cures for some of the most devastating diseases.”

Health Secretary Sajid Javid told the Financial Times that the deal is “huge in scale and capability … I think what this shows is that in post-Brexit Britain, when it comes to inward investment, and particularly in this case, the life sciences, the UK is the leader in Europe.”

Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel, not known for mincing his words, was similarly keen to play up the UK’s credentials. “The piece that was very exciting to us is the incredible amount of scientific leadership that the UK has had for a long time … this is not something the UK has lost at all [post-Brexit],” reported the FT.

The deal includes scope for more of Moderna’s clinical trials to be conducted in the UK moving forward, making use of the UK National Health Service (NHS)’s cradle-to-grave patient registers. “The scale that the UK has to offer in terms of clinical trial capability is quite unique,” added Bancel.

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (APBI) also lauded the impact of the deal. “Today’s announcement is brilliant news for the future of vaccine science, R&D and manufacturing in the UK,” said ABPI CEO Richard Torbett in a statement.

“The pharmaceutical industry invests more than any other sector in R&D in the UK, driving the discovery of the next generation of medicines and vaccines,” he added.

“Our response to the COVID pandemic underlined the importance of this long-term investment to our health and economic security. The new mRNA Innovation and Technology Centre provides a huge boost to how we can respond to future pandemics and to UK science and research.”