The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) on Tuesday announced a $200-million programme for the development of vaccines that provide broad protection against SARS-CoV-2 variants and other beta coronaviruses. CEPI will provide funding of up to $19.3 million to support the development of a ‘variant-proof’ SARS-CoV-2 vaccine candidate to an international multi-disciplinary consortium comprising Bharat Biotech International (India), the University of Sydney (Australia) and ExcellGene SA, Switzerland.
The world has made advances in vaccine development against Covid-19, but variants of concern would continue to pose a threat. Emerging variants that are more transmissible, more deadly, or evade the protection provided by current vaccines could create significant challenges. Developing novel vaccines that target multiple variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and have the potential to generate immunity against all of them is essential for the long-term control of the virus.
CEPI’s funding will support the consortium, as it seeks to establish pre-clinical and clinical proof of concept for an adjuvanted sub-unit vaccine designed to provide broad protection against all known SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern, as well as future variants of the virus which have not yet emerged. CEPI will fund the researchers to conduct activities including immunogen design, preclinical studies, manufacturing process development and a Phase-1 clinical trial.
Under the terms of the funding agreement, the consortium partners have committed to achieving equitable access to the outputs of this project, in line with CEPI’s Equitable Access Policy. Richard Hatchett, CEO of CEPI, said the repeated waves of Covid-19 infection were a reminder that people would be living alongside the virus for many years to come. “The threat of a new variant emerging that might evade the protection of our current vaccines is real, so investing in R&D for variant-proof SARS-CoV-2 vaccines is a global health security imperative,” Hatchett said. The partnership with Bharat Biotech, University of Sydney and ExcellGene will advance the development of a vaccine candidate to protect against future variants of Covid-19, potentially contributing to the long-term control of the virus.”
Krishna Ella, chairman and managing director, Bharat Biotech International, said while the current generation of vaccines was safe and effective, against currently known variants, it was imperative to focus on innovation for multi-epitope vaccines, where a single vaccine could protect against all future variants.
In this new vaccine design, modified trimeric spike immunogens will be produced in a robust and scalable process with high purity and yield at low cost, based on a biomanufacturing approach that has provided significant quantities of protein therapeutics to the world. This strategy could also be used to enable the rapid development of broadly protective vaccines against other beta coronaviruses, as well as vaccines against unknown pathogens with pandemic potential that emerge in the future.
Prof James Triccas, Sydney Institute for Infectious Diseases, The University of Sydney said they would provide a framework for pre-clinical assessment of vaccine candidates, together with access to Australia’s world-class early phase clinical trial community.