05 Jun 2023
June 5, 2023; OSLO: CEPI, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, and the Institute for Drug Discovery, Leipzig University, have today announced a partnership to expand artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms using the Rosetta Macromolecular Modelling platform to speed up development of future vaccines against novel viral threats (also known as Disease X).
CEPI will provide up to US$1.9 million to the Leipzig University—a leader in the use of AI for protein design—to adapt their AI technology to analyse the structures of viruses from 10 priority viral families from which the next Disease X could emerge. They will initially focus on paramyxoviruses and arenaviruses, which include the likes of Nipah virus and Lassa virus, respectively. The Leipzig University team will then identify potential antigenic targets and develop virtual antigen designs that could be adapted to rapidly create vaccine candidates for clinical assessment. To inform prioritisation of viral families with epidemic or pandemic risk, CEPI partnered with University of California, Davis, in November 2022, to support application of AI to expand their “SpillOver” platform.
A Vaccine Library key to pandemic preparedness
Preparation of pathogen targets and vaccines through pre-clinical and clinical testing, before an outbreak of a novel pathogen, will streamline the development of future vaccine candidates against Disease X, potentially within 100 days of identification. This effort to compress pandemic vaccine development down to just 100 days is known as “The 100 Days Mission” and has been embraced by the G7 and G20.
Achieving the 100 Days Mission would give the world a fighting shot to stop the next pandemic-causing Disease X in its tracks. For its part, CEPI has a $3.5 billion strategy that, over the next 5 years, will kickstart and coordinate the work necessary to achieve this mission.
A critical enabler of the 100 Days Mission is the establishment of a “Vaccine Library”. Fewer than 300 viruses are known to be able to infect people, and only a small fraction of these have pandemic potential. The viruses known to infect humans all derive from about 25 viral families.
CEPI’s aim is to store antigen designs developed by Leipzig University in a Vaccine Library so they can be quickly used to develop vaccine candidates in the event of an outbreak of a novel pathogenic threat. In this scenario, these antigen designs could be taken “off the shelf”, gene sequences for which could then be inserted into an appropriate rapid-response vaccine platform to start production of vaccines for clinical testing.
Chief Executive Officer, CEPI
Beating the next Disease X
An outbreak of a future Disease X is inevitable. Forces such as globalisation, urbanisation, and climate change are increasing the likelihood and frequency of such outbreaks, but that inevitability does not mean the world is destined to relive the devastating impacts of COVID-19. The scientific advances forged in response to COVID-19 have equipped the world with the tools and concepts that would enable us to interrupt outbreaks in the future before they spiral out of control.
In November, 2022, CEPI published a landmark report entitled “What Will It Take” that outlined the paradigm shift needed to speed up vaccine development even more, highlighting the crucial scientific and technological innovations (including the creation of a vaccine library) that will enable the world to develop new vaccines against future pandemic threats in just 100 days.
Director of the Institute of Drug Discovery, Leipzig University
Non-exclusive access to the components of CEPI’s vaccine library—including virtual antigen designs—will be available to CEPI partners and other developers who agree to enable equitable access to vaccines and other countermeasures against pathogens with epidemic or pandemic potential derived from the library, in line with CEPI’s equitable access policy.
The Rosetta Macromolecular Modelling platform
The Rosetta Macromolecular Modelling platform is a leading software framework for computational protein design. It originates from a group of scientists that gathered as RosettaCommons to develop, maintain and distribute the Rosetta software package, one of this founding members being Prof. Dr. Jens Meiler, who has been recruited to Leipzig University Faculty of Medicine in 2020 as an Alexander-von-Humboldt-Professor. The recent dawn of artificial intelligence in protein design has sped up the development process in and around Rosetta. The software can be used to stabilize the viral glycoproteins that are the key targets in the desired vaccine libraries. This stabilization allows our cooperation partners to probe the vaccine candidates for the immunogenic effects and formulate them as vaccines.
About Leipzig University
Founded in 1409, Leipzig University is among the oldest in Europe. It is a comprehensive university whose 14 faculties offer over 150 degree programmes. Leipzig has around 5,500 members of staff and more than 30,000 students. As a member of the German U15 network, it is one of the country’s leading universities when it comes to top-class research and medical expertise. Its research strengths are reflected in the three strategic research fields of Changing Orders in a Globalised World, Intelligent Methods and Materials, and Sustainable Principles for Life and Health. The Faculty of Medicine, one of the largest at Leipzig University, is involved in almost all scientific areas of medicine. Research focuses on molecular and cellular communication, diseases such as diabetes, arteriosclerosis and obesity, as well as clinical regeneration.
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 the Ebola Virus Disease, 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 COVID-19 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 of 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 broadly protective 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.
To read more about how the world can work together to #endpandemics, check out DISEASE X – The 100 Days Mission to End Pandemics, by CEPI’s Chief Scientific Writer Kate Kelland, available here at Bookshop.org. All author proceeds go to the World Health Organization Foundation’s COVID-19 Response.
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