New vaccines body extends IBM consultancy deal to enable ‘handover of services’

Tech giant awarded £740,000 contract with VMIC

Credit: Ulrike Leone/Pixabay

A new government-backed body for the development and manufacture of vaccines has extended its support and consultancy contract with IBM, to ensure the tech firm can work with internal staff to support a smooth handover of services.

To support the ongoing response to coronavirus, the Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre is due to open next summer – 12 months ahead of the original timeline. Additionally, the centre has said that the need to provide a vaccine for a pandemic-scale disease outbreak requires a twentyfold increase in capacity, compared with its previous plans.

To help expedite the launch of the joint public-and-private not-for-profit entity, in May IBM was brought in on a short-term £1.17m contract to provide “programme management services for the VMIC programme of projects”.

This deal – which, due to “extreme urgency” was awarded without any competitive tender process – saw the tech firm provide “a core advisory team of 6 consultants, plus a ‘call-off’ team of 6 SME consultants”.

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“IBM have been selected for this, based on their track record credentials, depth of available resources and skills, the immediate availability of a high-calibre experienced team and their intimate involvement (and therefore knowledge) of the BIA (UK BioIndustry Association) manufacturing taskforce for Covid-19, in which their performance has been exemplary,” the contract notice said. “For the VMIC programme they will be using the same government approved rates. A multi-stage, multi-person interview process will be used for each of the proposed consultants, to assess suitability for their proposed role.”

This contract reached its conclusion on 31 October. But newly published procurement information reveals that IBM has been given another contract, which runs until 28 February 2021. The effective extension will be worth £739,000 to the IT company, and has been put in place – once again without any competitive process – to ensure that IBM staff involved in the set-up of VMIC have sufficient time to pass on their expertise to the vaccines body’s staff.

“IBM provided project management services to VMIC enabling them to rapidly set up their programme,” the new contract notice said. “The purpose of this contract is to enable the transfer of knowledge and handover of services from IBM to VMIC staff. Since this knowledge and associated services are specific to IBM, it is not possible for another contractor to complete this work.”

VMIC, which is based on the Harwell science campus in Oxfordshire, brings together expertise from three academic institutions: The University of Oxford; Imperial College London; and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Its work will also be supported by a trio of pharmaceutical companies: Janssen; Cytiva; and MSD.

In May, the government announced that it would help the centre get up and running much quicker than planned by investing £93m in its construction. 

“When completed, [VMIC] will have capacity to produce enough vaccine doses to serve the entire UK population in as little as six months,” the government said at the time. “The new centre… is a key component of the government’s coronavirus vaccine programme – ensuring that once a vaccine is available it can be produced quickly and in mass quantities.”

It added: “The new centre will be the UK’s first not-for-profit organisation established to develop and advance the mass production of vaccines. This will boost the UK’s long-term capacity against future viruses. The centre will also accelerate the production of vaccines for existing illnesses such as the flu virus.”


Sam Trendall

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