The European Investment Bank (EIB) and Univercells S.A (Univercells) have signed a €30 million loan agreement to enable the production of large volumes of prophylactic COVID-19 vaccines in a new facility and to co-develop a pipeline of COVID-19 vaccines. This facility will address the unprecedented global demand for vaccines brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. The partnership backs Univercells’s Belgian hub, strengthening pandemic resilience in Europe and supporting global manufacturing autonomy through Univercells’ efforts to launching new production sites around the world based on the company’s innovative biomanufacturing technology.
In collaboration with the European Commission, the EIB Group is on its way to mobilising billions for the COVID-19 response, which it kicked off as soon as the crisis hit to tackle the global health emergency and the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. The InnovFin Infectious Diseases Finance Facility (IDFF) was scaled up at the beginning of the outbreak to directly support highly innovative projects that work towards halting the spread of the virus. The programme helps biotech and medtech companies across Europe find solutions for vaccines, cures and diagnostics.
The new venture debt to Univercells backed by the IDFF adds to a previous €20 million operation under the programme signed in October 2019, making it the first repeat loan to be granted under the facility. This investment will support not only European pandemic readiness, but due to Univercells’ innovative business model of hub-and-spoke, will also support vaccine availability and production autonomy in low and middle-income countries. Established in 2013, Univercells was founded with a mission: to make biologics accessible to all. By breaking down the barriers of bioproduction and installing affordable units delivering high-quality biologics at an affordable price around the world, Univercells aims to fill existing gaps in global vaccine production.
With the support of the EIB, the company will finance a second facility at its site in Jumet, Belgium, dedicated to COVID-19 vaccines and other contract development and manufacturing operations (CMDO.) The financing will also support potential COVID-19 vaccine co-development programmes with third parties. Univercells recently announced collaborations in Senegal to support vaccine manufacturing autonomy, which is aligned with programmes like the Team Europe initiative on manufacturing and access to vaccines in Africa.
At the signing event held in Brussels, EIB Vice-President Kris Peeters said: “The best we can do to contribute to the fight against COVID-19 is to help companies that are developing and manufacturing new vaccines, treatments or diagnostic solutions. We are doing everything we can to step up our support in the current crisis and help them succeed, because the only way to face the global health emergency is to make safe and effective vaccines available to all. As such, we are pleased to support Univercells, a unique player in this field with its novel biomanufacturing technology and with which we share similar values and objectives of producing high-quality vaccines and biologics available and affordable in all countries, including the less developed ones.”
CFO of Univercells Vincent Vanderborght commented: “We are extremely pleased to receive such support and endorsement from the EIB for the second time. This financing demonstrates the willingness of the European Union to address current public health emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic. It also deepens Univercells’ Belgian roots through the creation of additional employment in our new manufacturing facilities in Jumet.”
Hugues Bultot, CEO of Univercells, added: “We are delighted to continue our long-standing partnership with the EIB, which is of great strategic importance not only for Univercells, but also for Europe.”
Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, said: “Since the beginning of the pandemic we have made tremendous efforts to support Europe’s innovators, prioritising the research on and the development of safe and effective solutions to tackle the crisis and its aftermath. Our financial instruments and cooperation with the EIB have also helped develop and deploy many cutting-edge technologies addressing Covid-19. I am very pleased that today we are extending this support to the innovative Belgian biotech for their new Covid-19 vaccine manufacturing facility and development of a pipeline of vaccines. This is one step closer to restoring normal life and to ensuring we are better prepared for future pandemics.”