CEPI and University of Hong Kong expand partnership to develop intranasal COVID-19 vaccine candidate

HKU vaccine -photo

OSLO/ HONG KONG, 18 March 2021 — CEPI, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, and the University of Hong Kong (HKU) today announced an expanded partnership to further the development of HKU's intranasal COVID-19 vaccine candidate, based on a live-attenuated influenza virus.

This partnership builds on CEPI's initial investment of $620,000 in March 2020 which supported preclinical testing of the vaccine candidate. Under the expanded partnership, CEPI will invest an additional $4.8m to fund the production of clinical trial materials, and the investigation of mucosal immune responses during a Phase 1 trial of the vaccine candidate, which is being supported by the Government of Hong Kong.

CEPI recently launched a five-year plan to tackle epidemics and pandemics, which includes an urgent programme of vaccine R&D to strengthen our defences against COVID-19. The focused R&D agenda aims to optimize our current vaccines, address variants of concern, and develop next-generation COVID-19 vaccines which are differentiated from those already in advanced development, and could therefore help to fight COVID-19 in the longer term. This expanded partnership with HKU is the second of CEPI's next-generation vaccine investments, which are designed to develop vaccines that are easier to deliver, and address the needs of a diverse range of populations and settings.

The HKU vaccine has several potential advantages which make it a suitable candidate for such CEPI investment. It is unique in the CEPI portfolio in that is delivered intranasally, which could potentially reduce transmission of the virus by stimulating a mucosal response in vaccinated people. In addition, it should be possible to scale production of this vaccine candidate to hundreds of millions of doses. The vaccine platform has the further advantage that it can be easily and rapidly adapted to target emerging variants of COVID-19.

It is remarkable that in such a short space of time the world already has multiple safe and effective vaccines which are being rolled out to protect people against COVID-19. But we must also plan for the longer-term management of this virus by continuing to invest in vaccine R&D.

I am pleased to expand our partnership with the University of Hong Kong which will further explore the potential of this promising vaccine candidate – the only intranasal COVID-19 vaccine in CEPI's portfolio.

Dr. Richard HatchettChief Executive Officer, CEPI

I am thankful for the continued support from CEPI on our vaccine research. The University of Hong Kong has outstanding researchers in emerging infectious diseases and has made significant contributions in the response to the emergence of COVID-19.

I am hopeful that the unique nasal spray COVID-19 vaccine being developed will contribute to the ultimate control of the disease.

Professor Xiang ZhangPresident of The University of Hong Kong

Equitable access to vaccines key to ending the pandemic

CEPI and HKU are committed to global equitable access of COVID-19 vaccines and have agreed that this vaccine candidate will be made available to the COVAX Facility for procurement and allocation, if it is proven to be safe and effective. The COVAX Facility aims to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for all countries, at all levels of development, that wish to participate. To date, COVAX has delivered vaccines to 50 countries, with the aim of distributing 2 billion doses globally in 2021.

University of Hong Kong live-attenuated influenza vaccine platform

Researchers at the University of Hong Kong have created a vaccine candidate using a weakened version of the influenza virus and have adapted it to express the surface protein of the COVID-19 virus. This approach has previously been used to develop preclinical vaccine candidates against MERS.



About CEPI

CEPI is an innovative partnership between public, private, philanthropic, and civil organisations, launched at Davos in 2017, to develop vaccines to stop future epidemics. CEPI has moved with great urgency and in coordination with WHO in response to the emergence of COVID-19. CEPI has initiated 12 partnerships to develop vaccines against the novel coronavirus. The programmes will leverage rapid response platforms already supported by CEPI as well as new partnerships. The aim is to advance COVID-19 vaccine candidates into clinical testing as quickly as possible.

Before the emergence of COVID-19 CEPI's priority diseases included Ebola virus, Lassa virus, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus, Nipah virus, Rift Valley Fever virus and Chikungunya virus. CEPI also invested in platform technologies that can be used for rapid vaccine and immunoprophylactic development against unknown pathogens (Disease X).

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CEPI's $3.5 billion investment case — The Urgency of Now. Turning the tide against epidemic and pandemic infectious diseases

The full investment case may be accessed here.


About the University of Hong Kong

Founded in 1911, the University of Hong Kong (HKU) is the first and oldest institution of higher learning in Hong Kong. For over a century, the University has dedicated itself to creating knowledge, providing education, and serving society.

Today, HKU has an established worldwide reputation for being a research-led comprehensive University with ten Faculties and a strong commitment to intellectual freedom, liberty and diversity. Regarded as Asia's Global University, HKU is a diverse community with over 30,000 students including over 10,000 students from about 100 countries, and over 60% of its professoriate staff are international faculty. The University has academic exchange partnerships with over 370 universities and institutions around the world. HKU's research areas and themes reflect a broad range of issues and bring together experts from diverse disciplines. The University has 119 professors ranking in the top 1% scientists globally and conducts cutting-edge work in many fields. Through these endeavours, the University will continue to contribute to the development of leaders and to the advancement of society locally, regionally and internationally.



COVAX is the vaccines pillar of the ACT-Accelerator. It is co-led by CEPI, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and the World Health Organization (WHO) with lead delivery partner UNICEF, working in partnership with developed and developing country vaccine manufacturers, the World Bank, Civil Society Organisations and others. COVAX is the only global initiative that is working with governments and manufacturers to ensure COVID-19 vaccines are available worldwide to economies of all financial means.


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