COVID-19 - Mass Manufacturing a Vaccine

Discover the engineering team working towards a vaccine for COVID-19

By Museum of Engineering Innovation

Racing towards a COVID-19 vaccine: Factory-in-a-box

Scientists and researchers across the world are hard at work developing a vaccine for Covid-19, but they aren’t the only ones trying to find solutions. Engineers like Professor Harris Makatsoris are also playing a central role in stopping the pandemic. 

Along with post-doctoral researcher Dr Ioannis Alissandratos, Professor Makatsoris’ team at King’s College London (KCL) have developed a solution to manufacturing vaccines at a massive scale: a factory-in-a-box.    

The factory-in-a-box minimises the space and equipment needed for making lots of vaccine doses all at once. This means that we could make tons of RNA-based vaccines, one of the types of vaccine that is being developed to combat Covid-19, almost anywhere around the world, at a much faster pace than would otherwise be possible. 

The factory-in-a-box uses a computer to mix the fluids that make up a vaccine really efficiently and quickly. In fact, it can produce 600 doses every single minute. And, because it comes in a box, it can sit right on a desk!

Fluidic deviceMuseum of Engineering Innovation

The problem

In order to get Covid-19 under control with a vaccine, we are going to need to vaccinate about 60% of the nearly 8 billion people on earth. Currently, we  don’t even know how long immunity from a vaccine will last because Covid-19 is so brand new. We may need one or two doses, or it could be needed every year like the flu jab. 

With current manufacturing capacity, we can make up to 5 billion vaccine doses every year, but at least 1.5 billion of those are set aside to tackle the flu. 

Building a full-scale vaccine manufacturing plant costs between US$150 million and US$300 million and will take at least a year or two to complete. Time is in short supply to tackle this global pandemic, but that’s where engineering comes in...

Graphic of COVID-19 virusMuseum of Engineering Innovation

The engineering solution

The factory-in-a-box that the team at Kings are developing dramatically speeds up the production of RNA-based vaccines, which is one of the types of vaccine being developed to deal with Covid-19. 

RNA-based vaccines work by introducing a tiny genetic code, containing instructions for the body on how to stimulate the immune system and protect us against the virus. The factory-in-a-box produces this type of vaccine by mimicking the natural way our bodies produce defences against viruses like Covid-19, but it does it much faster and in much greater quantities.

The factory-in-a-box is created by engineers and is a world first. It can create 600 vaccine doses in one minute, 30,000 in one hour or 300,000 in one full day! 

Professor Harris Makatsoris in the laboratory where he and his engineering team are developing a way to mass produce rapid vaccinesMuseum of Engineering Innovation

The engineers

The factory-in-a-box is being built by a team of engineers from different backgrounds: chemical engineers, mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, and many others!

Working together and combining their knowledge of chemistry, fluid behaviours, data and analysis, they created this amazing device.

Professor Harris Makatsoris and Rylan Cox, engineers developing a vaccine 'factory in a box'Museum of Engineering Innovation

The Engineers: Harris Makatoris

Harris is Professor of Sustainable Manufacturing Systems in the Department of Engineering at King’s College London. He and his research group combine mechanical engineering and process systems engineering with computer control to make high value chemicals more easily and efficiently. 

He has recently developed this work to include the manufacture of vaccines. Harris is also experienced in technology transfer to industry and has set up several university spinout companies. He is a graduate of Imperial College London and a Chartered Engineer.    

COVID19 vaccineMuseum of Engineering Innovation

The engineers: Eleni Routoula

Eleni Routoula is a postdoctoral research associate in the Kings Department of Engineering. She works as part of Professor Makatsoris’s group and currently focuses on making the factory-in-a-box compliant with regulations and making it quick and easy to build.

A big part of her job is ensuring that the quality of the vaccine produced through the factory-in-a-box in remote countries is going to be the same as the vaccine being produced in the UK. 

COVID19 vaccineMuseum of Engineering Innovation

The engineers: Rylan Cox

Rylan studied  Mechanical Engineering at Brunel University, and continued his education at Cranfield University in Advanced Materials MSc. It was here he joined the Makatsoris group, where he helped drive costs down for pilot scale microalgae cultivation in novel continuous technologies. 

Rylan’s aim is to bridge the gap between biology and engineering, and to contribute to a circular economy. 

COVID19 vaccineMuseum of Engineering Innovation

The engineers: Ioannis Alissandratos

Dr Ioannis Alissandratos is a post-doctoral research associate in the manufacturing and process engineering group in the Department of Engineering at King’s College London. 

His work focuses on improving smart manufacturing strategies for creating new vaccines. He and the team are currently in the middle of one of the biggest feats of engineering we may see in our time: building the factory-in-a-box.  

COVID19 vaccineMuseum of Engineering Innovation

Making a difference

The factory-in-a-box is a world first. It boosts our ability to make substances like the Covid-19 vaccine and could reduce the cost and time we take to respond to pandemics in the future.

This could be a game changer if we can roll it out in time. If it works, we could use it for other treatments too and we could respond to other viruses or diseases like cancer like never before. 

Thanks to the work of this team of engineers, the factory-in-a-box will enable us to create life-saving products on demand, right where they’re needed, in a way that avoids a lot of the challenges of normal manufacturing. It also removes any dependency on unreliable distribution networks in the event of an emergency. 

Engineer experiementing in the labMuseum of Engineering Innovation

A world first

In a single 24-hour shift, the factory-in-a-box can produce 300,000 vaccine doses. It doesn’t need anyone watching over it and monitoring the process, so it can churn out vaccines on the go.

The UK has a population of about 65 million people, so if we placed just 60 of these devices across the country, we could create enough dosages to vaccinate everyone in just a few days.

Professor Harris Makatsoris developing a 'factory in a box' to quickly and reliably mass-produce vaccines for rapid distributionMuseum of Engineering Innovation

What's next?

Professor Makatsoris and his team are also working with Professor Robin Shattock, who leads Imperial’s Covid-19 RNA vaccine project. As soon as the factory-in-a-box is fully tested and approved for use, hospitals could house it on site. This means that approved vaccines could be produced right there where they are needed. 

This device can help us develop, test and scale a rapid response against any new pandemic thanks to the incredible manufacturing speed of the factory-in-a-box.

Flu vaccine being injected and hypothetical bottle of COVID-19 vaccineMuseum of Engineering Innovation

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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