UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab had unveiled the UK-India Vaccine Hub during his recent visit to India, a very timely intervention as a new variant of coronavirus causes alarm.
India has joined over 40 other countries now in suspending flight connections with the UK amid growing concern of a fast-spreading variant of coronavirus in parts of England. While most experts believe that vaccines in different stages of regulatory approvals around the world should work to protect against this mutation too, only further research will provide all the answers.
This is where the very timely launch of a new virtual hub of experts from India and the UK joining forces to deliver vaccines for coronavirus and other deadly viruses will prove crucial. UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi earlier this month to discuss the UK and India working together as a force for good and launched the new UK-India Vaccine Hub to share best practice for regulation and clinical trials as well as foster innovation.
Raab also visited a Delhi health clinic where Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines will be administered once they receive regulatory approval.
India’s Serum Institute is poised to make over a billion doses of the coronavirus vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca. Unlike other vaccines, it can be stored at normal fridge temperatures, making it easier and cheaper to produce and keep – and distribute around the world.
Raab said: “This Serum Institute and Oxford University partnership demonstrates the UK-India relationship at its best: a vaccine developed in the UK and made in India; drawing our brightest minds together to save lives as a global force for good.
“A global pandemic requires a global solution. Scientific cooperation has made breakthroughs on coronavirus vaccines at record-breaking pace and the UK-India Vaccine Hub will now build on these innovations, to bring this crisis to an end and protect us all against future pandemics.”
Millions of the doses made by the Serum Institute will be distributed to the world’s poorest people via the global COVAX initiative, in partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO) and Gavi, the vaccine alliance.
The UK is among the countries championing equitable access to any coronavirus vaccine for those who need it and has committed up to £619 million to COVAX to secure both the UK’s access to coronavirus vaccines and distribute Covid-19 vaccines across the world.
India supplies more than 50 per cent of the world’s vaccines and 25 per cent of the National Health Service’s (NHS) generic drugs. Closer UK-India cooperation on medicines and vaccines approvals will ensure speedy access for the UK to Indian-produced pharmaceuticals and help safeguard future supplies to the NHS.
The new hub will enable British and Indian experts to share knowledge on clinical trials and regulatory approvals and get vaccines to people who need them most in a safe, secure and energy-efficient way.
It will protect the UK and India by enhancing cooperation on the development and distribution of coronavirus vaccines, better aligning the international regulation of vaccines, and fostering partnerships to develop innovation “moonshots” that can define vaccine delivery over the next decade and beyond.
During his meeting with Prime Minister Modi, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) said Raab signalled his ambition for a closer UK-India relationship as part of a wider UK focus on our partnerships in the Indo-Pacific. They also spoke about the 10-year roadmap, which heralds a new era for the UK and India with an ambitious plan for an Enhanced Trade Partnership.
The UK and India have also announced a new memorandum of understanding between India’s Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) and the United Kingdom Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (UK MHRA) agreeing to more frequent discussions on UK-India vaccine and pharmaceutical regulations, improving standards and sharing information to control against the trade of unlicensed products.
In addition, the UK and India have lined up a new partnership to help UK and Indian scientists unlock the power of data, including the data within our genes, to deliver better diagnostics and enhanced life-saving treatments for cancer, diabetes, maternal health challenges and rare diseases.
Besides, Raab’s important meeting with the Indian Minister for Education, Ramesh Pokhriyal, holds out much promise as a new taskforce works on the mutual recognition of academic qualifications, starting with Master’s degrees, over the next year. It has been a long-standing demand of the scientific and academic community on both sides to remove barriers to two-way research flows.
And, a new agreement between the University of Edinburgh and Gujarat to open a new biotechnology university in the western Indian state in July 2021, the first foreign university collaboration of its kind in India, also marks a significant milestone in this area.