CEPI partners with Shanghai Zerun Biotech to develop COVID-19 variant vaccine


July 21, 2021; Oslo, Norway—CEPI, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, today announced that it would partner with Shanghai Zerun Biotechnology Co., Ltd. (ZerunBio) and its parent company Walvax Biotechnology Co., Ltd.(Walvax), to advance development of both COVID-19 prototype and variant vaccine candidates. CEPI will provide US$13.1 million to support phase I clinical trial, process optimisation and scale-up of the prototype vaccine, and preclinical studies and phase I clinical trial of the variant vaccine.

This funding forms part of CEPI's programme to develop "next-generation" COVID-19 vaccines that are differentiated from those already in advanced development and can be used against COVID-19 variants. CEPI's portfolio of "next-generation" vaccines currently includes the GBP510 (developed by SK Bioscience) and an intranasal vaccine candidate (developed by the University of Hong Kong), which can be made globally accessible through COVAX.

The ZerunBio vaccine candidate

The spike protein in SARS-CoV-2 naturally occurs as a "trimer"—a molecule consisting of three identical parts. ZerunBio's vaccine candidate uses a stabilised version of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein in trimer form, and includes several structural changes designed to improve its ability to stimulate immune responses against new SARS-CoV-2 variants, as well as significantly improve yield. The vaccine candidate will also include an adjuvant, CpG7909, to boost the immune response. Previous preclinical studies of this vaccine candidate, carried out by ZerunBio, have shown that it induces very high titres of neutralising antibodies and robust T-cell immune responses. Potential advantages of this candidate include scalability, thermostability, and the ability to cross protect against some of the new variants of SARS-CoV-2. The prototype COVID-19 vaccine based on this technology has recently entered Phase I/II clinical trials in Henan Province, China.

Enabling equitable access

The results of these CEPI-backed clinical trials will inform planning for efficacy trials and manufacturing scale-up, potentially enabling the annual production of hundreds of millions of doses. If the early stage clinical development is successful, CEPI will have the opportunity to grant additional investment in this vaccine candidate through to licensure in China and globally.

ZerunBio, Walvax, and CEPI are committed to enabling global equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines and, under the terms of the agreement, it is anticipated that vaccine output funded by CEPI's investment will be procured and allocated through the COVAX Facility, which aims to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for all participating countries, at all levels of development.

To date, more than 134 million COVAX doses have already been delivered to 136 countries, with 1.9 billion doses forecast to be available for supply through COVAX by the end of 2021.

We are delighted to partner with ZerunBio on their innovative COVID-19 variant vaccine candidate. The emergence of vaccine-resistant COVID-19 variants threatens to undermine the progress the world has made over the past 18 months.

The Delta variant is already rendering our current batch of vaccines less able to prevent symptomatic infection. Thankfully, they are still effective at preventing severe disease and hospitalisation; but we cannot afford to be complacent. CEPI and ZerunBio's partnership will strengthen our ability to control COVID-19.

Dr. Richard HatchettChief Executive Officer, CEPI

We're proud that we and our subsidiary ZerunBio have entered into the collaboration with CEPI with a shared mission to make a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine available, affordable and accessible to those who need it most.

The collaboration is in perfect line with our commitment of using better vaccines to make people's lives better. Walvax will leverage all resources to fully support ZerunBio's COVID-19 vaccine development and deployment.

Mr. Yunchun LiChairman of Walvax Board

We are very honored to receive CEPI's grant to advance our protein-based COVID-19 vaccine development with focus on variants.

The grant reflects the recognition of CEPI on our vaccine development platform and knowledge and dedication of our team, which have been working tirelessly with a firm determination to contribute to fighting this global pandemic. Partnering with CEPI, we can surely accelerate the development to achieve our goal of making a safe, effective and affordable COVID-19 vaccine to the world.

Mr. Jiankang ZhangVice President of Walvax, CEO & President of Zerun Bio

A version of this press release is also available in Chinese.


About CEPI

CEPI is an innovative partnership between public, private, philanthropic, and civil organisations, launched at Davos in 2017, to develop vaccines against future epidemics. Prior to COVID-19 CEPI's work focused on developing vaccines against Ebola virus, Lassa virus, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus, Nipah virus, Rift Valley Fever virus and Chikungunya virus — it has over 20 vaccine candidates against these pathogens in development. CEPI has also invested in new platform technologies for rapid vaccine development against unknown pathogens (Disease X).

During the current pandemic, CEPI initiated multiple programmes to develop vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 and its variants with a focus on speed, scale and access. These programmes leverage the rapid response platforms developed by CEPI's partners prior to the emergence of COVID-19 as well as new collaborations. The aim is to advance clinical development of a diverse portfolio of safe and effective COVID-19 candidates and to enable fair allocation to these vaccines worldwide through COVAX.

CEPI's 5-year plan lays out a $3.5 billion roadmap to compress vaccine development timelines to 100 days, develop a universal vaccine against COVID-19 and other Betacoronaviruses, and create a "library" of vaccine candidates for use against known and unknown pathogens. The plan is available at https://endpandemics.cepi.net.

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About ZerunBio

ZerunBio is an innovative biopharmaceutical company focusing on the research, development and manufacturing of new recombinant human vaccines. The company was founded in 2003 and is located in Zhanjiang Hi-Tech Park, Pudong New District, Shanghai. ZerunBio is one subsidiary of Walvax Biotechnology Co., Ltd., a company listed on Shenzhen Stock Exchange. For more information, please visit the website:  http://www.ZerunBio.com/.


About Walvax

Founded in 2001, Walvax Biotechnology Co., Ltd. (Walvax) is a leading vaccine producer, engaged in research and development, manufacturing and distribution of safe and efficacious quality vaccines. Headquartered in China's southwestern city Kunming in Yunnan Province, Walvax went to IPO in 2010 (300142.SZ) and started business expansion from traditional vaccines to innovative vaccines. With the vision of dedicating to be the pride domestically and the pioneer globally in the vaccine industry, producing efficacious, quality, innovative and affordable products to protect people from the world's deadliest diseases, Walvax's purpose is to help everyone live a healthy life. For more information, please visit the website:   http://www.walvax.com/.


Media Contacts


Email: [email protected]

Phone: +44 7387 055214

Zerun Biotech 

Ms. Qiaoying Shen

Email: [email protected]

Mobile: +86 183 0170 9598


Mr. Andrew Wong, MD

Mobile: +86 180 1721 1918

Email: [email protected]