Partnership is at the heart of what CEPI does. In our short history we have built an expansive network of collaborators, from the 250 awardees and sub-awardees in more than 50 countries across the fields of vaccine development, manufacturing and enabling sciences to our partnerships with Civil Society, Governments, the public and philanthropic sectors. All of this work is critical not only to CEPI achieving its goals but to the ultimate goal of ending pandemics in the future.
Today we are delighted to announce the first of a new category of Strategic Partnership with the University of Oxford that will enable us to work with one of the world’s leading vaccine development institutions, at greater scale and in a more flexible and agile manner than our previous modes of partnering have allowed. Our Strategic Partnership with Oxford is structured to allow us to work on multiple product development efforts simultaneously or sequentially and to adjust the scope of our efforts as scientific opportunity allows. We have established this partnership because of Oxford’s record of scientific excellence and achievement, its commitment to equitable access, and its stewardship of one of the most important rapid response vaccine platforms globally.
Building on Oxford’s COVID-19 response
In response to the pandemic, the University of Oxford’s COVID-19 vaccine – based on the viral-vector rapid response platform technology known as ChAdOx – became one of the most widely used in the world, saving over 6 million lives in the first year of its rollout. ChAdOx was clinically validated during COVID-19: it is one of only a handful of vaccine technologies anywhere in the world which we know can be used to design a safe and effective new vaccine with extreme rapidity, and which we know can be manufactured at scale at low cost.
Oxford’s rapid response to the pandemic can be attributed to the scientific understanding and work already put in place by their world-leading researchers. Supported by funding provided by CEPI in 2019, the team were already advancing the development and manufacture of a vaccine against MERS, caused by another coronavirus, meaning that they could quickly pivot their work and hit the ground running when COVID-19 emerged. In addition, CEPI funds had also supported preclinical development studies led by Oxford of vaccines against the Nipah and Lassa viruses – two other global disease threats on WHO’s priority pathogen list.
CEPI’s new collaboration with Oxford enables us to harness our ongoing relationship with Oxford, capitalizing on their world-class vaccinology expertise, track record of rapid response to outbreaks, and ChAdOx rapid response vaccine technology. Central to the partnership will be the development of prototype vaccines against high-risk viral families which could be swiftly adapted if a new viral threat is identified.
Altogether, this Strategic Partnership will make an invaluable contribution to the Global Vaccine Library, paving the way for the development of new vaccines, based on Oxford’s ChAdOx technology and other rapid response vaccine platforms, within just 100 days of a virus with pandemic potential emerging.
Flexible and agile partnerships
Each of CEPI’s Strategic Partnerships is designed to contribute to equitable global preparedness and response in a sustainable, efficient and enduring fashion and is intended as a flexible and pragmatic way to bring our equity-driven mission together with the innovations and technologies required to achieve it. The Strategic Partnership model draws on lessons learned from existing partnerships (such as CEPI’s much-valued collaborations with Institut Pasteur de Dakar and SK bioscience) where multiple projects have been managed through administratively distinct and cumulatively cumbersome funding mechanisms.
To date, competitive Calls for Proposals (CfPs) have been the primary mechanism through which CEPI engages and contracts awardees. This typically results in a contractual agreement between CEPI and the selected partner to deliver a single project – such as the development of a vaccine candidate for an individual disease through to a pre-determined phase of clinical development – over a specified period of time, for a specified sum of funding. The model has delivered notable scientific successes, including four CEPI-backed COVID-19 vaccines receiving WHO Emergency Use Listing and CEPI-funded vaccine candidates leading the field in the race to develop vaccines against Chikungunya, Lassa fever and Nipah virus.
As we continue to deliver on our five-year strategy and look towards our ambition of delivering pandemic-busting vaccines in just 100 days we will now broaden the scope and scale of a set of key partnerships. Doing so, through adding more broad, strategic collaborations which move beyond funding individual projects, will enhance the way we can work with industry and academic partners with unique capabilities or technologies that we know are vital to the success of the 100 Days Mission.
For example, if positive trial data is emerging within a project or we wish to extend our work to incorporate additional scientific thinking or activities into our plans, having this new model of partnership already in place with a partner gives us the flexibility and speed to better leverage research and broader pandemic preparedness opportunities. Through grouping work into these strategic collaborations, when and where relevant we can eliminate the need for additional grant applications to be written, processed and reviewed, thereby enabling scientific innovation and evidence to move much more rapidly.
The currently planned, and any potential future Strategic Partnerships are, and will be, assessed against four criteria:
– Technical Impact: Impact of the Partner’s technology and activities to enable the 100 Days Mission.
– Equitable Access: Commitment towards CEPI’s Equitable Access Policy and Framework, and support for the health security of the Global South.
– Partner Potential: The Partner’s demonstrated organizational capacity to successfully deliver products and services critical to the 100 Days Mission and enhance the global epidemic and pandemic response ecosystem.
– Public Policy: Influence with governments, policy makers, regulators and other stakeholders across regions to advance the 100 Days Mission and system equity.
As with our other CEPI-funded projects and initiatives, CEPI’s Strategic Partners are subject to robust project oversight and management, including stage gated funding, and their performance will be monitored by the CEPI Board. Strategic Partnerships – like the one with Oxford announced today, with the intent to support delivery across a number of strategic objectives – are established as framework agreements with defined focus areas of collaboration which maximize the benefit of each partner’s unique capabilities. Individual projects can be quickly added to the agreements if a new need is identified, ensuring both CEPI and the partner can respond with agility.
Watch this space for more announcements in the coming weeks…