The WHO has prioritised a number of diseases that pose a significant public health risk because of their epidemic potential and because there are no or insufficient biomedical countermeasures available against these diseases. “Disease X” is also on this list of priority diseases. “Disease X” represents the knowledge that a serious international epidemic could be caused by a pathogen currently unknown to cause human disease.
The threat posed by Disease X is substantial—according to the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board report, published last month, there is a very real threat of a rapidly moving, highly lethal pandemic of a respiratory pathogen killing 50 to 80 million people and wiping out nearly 5% of the world’s economy. The number of new emerging infectious diseases is on the rise. Disease X could arise through multiple routes: through viral or bacterial mutation; from zoonotic pathogens that jump from animals to human; or through artificial means. In recognition of this global risk, the WHO added Disease X to its Research and Development (R&D) Blueprint list of priority diseases in 2018.
To bolster global preparedness against this unknown threat, CEPI will has opened applications to fund the development of vaccine platform technologies and other immunoprophylactic platform technologies.
Vaccines aim to stimulate the immune system and to induce immunological memory that can protect against future disease. Vaccines can work in a number of ways. Some vaccines include either weakened or dead versions of a pathogen, antigenic proteins, or virus-like particles to elicit immune responses. Other types of vaccines introduce genetic material (ie, DNA or RNA) that programme certain cells to produce antigenic proteins.
Immunoprophylactics, on the other hand, aim to support or boost a person’s immune system to fight back against potential infections. Some examples of immunoprophylactics include monoclonal antibodies that can be injected into humans to provide passive immunity. Other approaches may equip cells to produce their own antibodies against a specific pathogen, providing active immunity.
Techniques for platform manufacturing can be set up for rapid use against novel pathogens. Over time, as regulatory authorities gain experience with and gather data on a platform through its use, they will likely become more comfortable about rapidly moving new vaccines or immunoprophylactics—developed on such platforms—into clinical trials (this has been the case with influenza vaccines, which are developed every year on an existing platform).
CEPI’s goal is to be able to start safety testing within months of a new pathogen being genetically sequenced.
CEPI has launched two calls for the development of platform technologies against Disease X and other emerging infectious diseases:
In September, 2017, CEPI requested proposals for vaccine platform technologies that enable rapid vaccine development, elicit rapid onset of immunity, and whose production can be scaled-up quickly to respond to outbreaks of Disease X. To date, CEPI has committed up to $54 million to fund the development of a vaccine printer, molecular clamp platform, and a self-amplifying RNA vaccine platform.
In October, 2019, CEPI launched a call for proposals to invite funding applications for innovative platform technologies that can be used to develop vaccines and other immunoprophylactics to rapidly respond to future outbreaks of emerging infectious diseases and unknown pathogens, known as “Disease X”. The new call for proposals is open worldwide to all types of non-profit research organisations, for-profit companies, international organisations and foundations, joint R&D ventures, government research organisations, and academic institutions. “Expressions of interest” can be submitted on an ongoing basis for 12 months. CEPI aims to fund multiple platform technologies through this call.
If we can hone these technologies and refine the platform manufacturing approach, we will move closer to being able to create vaccines and other technologies against epidemic infectious diseases ‘just-in-time’, within weeks instead of years—enabling the world to respond quickly and control epidemic threats.
Find out more: