CEPI launches funding call to advance development of broadly protective coronavirus vaccines

>Up to US$200 million in funding to be allocated for development of vaccines that provide broad protection against SARS-CoV-2 and betacoronaviruses.
>R&D will focus on novel immunogens for use in vaccines that can elicit durable broadly protective immune responses.
>Funding call forms part of CEPI's longer term $3.5bn investment strategy, announced earlier in March, 2021, which is being activated now to mitigate the urgent threat posed by COVID-19.

OSLO, Norway, March 31, 2021: CEPI, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, today launched a call for proposals to develop broadly protective SARS-CoV-2 vaccines and broadly protective Betacoronavirus vaccines. CEPI plans to invest up to US$200 million in promising vaccine candidates up to clinical proof of concept.

Betacoronaviruses are types of coronavirus that cause Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), which have been responsible for major epidemics in Asia and the Middle East in recent years, and also SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The main focus of this call for proposals is to support the research and development of novel immunogens (ie, antigens that elicit an adaptive immune response) for use in vaccines that can elicit durable, broadly protective immune responses.

This opportunity will be open, worldwide, to research and development organisations with expertise in vaccine development.

The call for proposals invites funding application for development of the following:

- A broadly protective vaccine against new emerging variants and variants of concern of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, with funding up to 18-24 months to achieve clinical proof of concept.

- A broadly protective Betacoronavirus vaccine with funding potentially awarded for up to 4 years to demonstrate clinical proof of concept.

The need for broadly protective coronavirus vaccines

CEPI's call to develop broadly protective coronavirus vaccines forms part of its long-term $3.5bn investment strategy, announced earlier in March, 2021. CEPI is activating key elements of this plan now—including this call for proposal and its work on variant and next-generation vaccines—to mitigate the immediate threat posed by COVID-19.

Coronaviruses have now demonstrated their pandemic potential. The SARS and MERS coronaviruses are associated with case fatality rates of 10%-35% (5-16 times worse than COVID-19) and we know that coronaviruses circulate widely in animal reservoirs.

While the world has made great advances in vaccines development against the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, variants of concern (such as B.1.1.7; B.1.351, and P.1) now pose a threat to this progress. They spread rapidly, can reinfect people who have been infected before, and they are rendering our countermeasures—including our vaccines and monoclonal-antibody treatments—less effective. The increased transmissibility of these variants could result in a reversal in the global downward trends in transmission seen in recent weeks resulting in a renewed burden on health systems, and more deaths.

CEPI has already begun development of vaccines against variants of concern, but additional approaches are needed to ensure that we can stay one step ahead of the threat posed by these variants, other Betacoronaviruses, and potentially novel coronaviruses that have yet to emerge.

CEPI will, therefore, initiate a programme to develop vaccines against Betacoronaviruses with the ultimate objective of developing a vaccine that provides broad protection against the whole Betacoronavirus genus. CEPI will build on the vaccine technologies validated in the COVID-19 response to advance our understanding of coronavirus immunology and viral evolution and has recently issued another call for proposals seeking to enlist structural biologists to identify the viral family's weak points.

CEPI is committed to the principle of equitable access to vaccines, especially for the most vulnerable populations. Awardees receiving funds through this call for proposals will be required to make commitments in line with CEPI's Equitable Access Policy.

The emergence of a coronavirus combining the transmissibility of COVID-19 with the lethality of SARS or MERS would be devastating to civilization. Finding solutions to mitigate the threat posed by coronaviruses is thus an issue of the greatest global urgency.

CEPI aims to build on the technological advances that have been made in response to COVID-19 to develop an all-encompassing vaccine that could work against known Betacoronaviruses, including SARS, MERS, and COVID-19, and could potentially be used to quickly supress future outbreaks of other novel coronaviruses that might jump into the human population.

This will be an incredibly challenging area of work, but one with tremendous benefits. A broadly protective coronavirus vaccine could help avert another COVID-19-like pandemic, reduce the need to continually update vaccine components, and ultimately reduce virus circulation.

CEPI anticipates that developing broadly protective coronavirus vaccines will be a shared global priority and will work closely with partners to advance work in this area as quickly as possible.

Dr Melanie SavilleExecutive Director of Vaccine Research and Development, CEPI

Further details on the call for proposals are available here


Notes to the editor

For the development of broadly protective vaccine against new emerging variants and variants of concern of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the main R&D objectives will focus on:

1. Immunogen design and selection, based on the Spike protein, but also other relevant immunogens where applicable to induce a broader immune response.

2. Immunogen design that considers existing variants of concern, emergent variants of interest, and potentially future variants predicted computationally or experimentally.

3. Development of safe and proven, rapid response vaccine technology platforms.

4. Technology platforms that can be accelerated through development and offers the potential for production of large volumes of vaccine to support equitable access to vulnerable populations.

For the development of a broadly protective Betacoronavirus vaccine, the main R&D objections will focus on:

1. Design of immunogens that elicit a broad immune response inducing protection to multiple Betacoronaviruses

2. Computational identification and design of potentially conserved immunogens—using machine learning—to identify genetic sequence, protein sequences, or epitopes (ie, parts of an antigen capable of stimulating a broad protective immune response)

3. Using characterised immunoglobulin/antibody-binding-specific regions of the Betacoronavirus as a tool to identify broadly protective conserved/cryptic regions of the viral antigens to induce protection across the Betacoronavirus

4. Any other vaccine and immunogen design approaches that address the objectives of the call for proposals.


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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