Have you heard of Disease X?
It represents the knowledge that a serious international epidemic could be caused by a pathogen currently unknown to cause human disease. It is one of the diseases prioritised by the World Health Organization (WHO) because of its epidemic potential and because there are no or insufficient biomedical countermeasures.
Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) is the world’s Disease X. It has resulted in a humanitarian and economic global crisis, unprecedented in modern times and, as it is a novel pathogen, no vaccines against it currently exist.
And it’s not just COVID-19. The number of new emerging infectious diseases is on the rise. A future Disease X could arise through multiple routes, including viral or bacterial mutation; or zoonotic pathogens that jump from animals to human.
Rapid response platforms
Rapid response platforms broadly refer to systems that uses the same basic components as a backbone, but can be adapted for use against different pathogens by inserting new genetic or protein sequences.
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, which aim to support or boost a person’s immune system to fight back against potential infections—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 response to Disease X
CEPI’s goal is to be able to start safety testing within months of a new pathogen being genetically sequenced. 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.
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. CEPI funded three platform technologies: a vaccine printer, molecular clamp platform, and a self-amplifying RNA vaccine platform.
In October 2019, CEPI launched a new Call for Proposals for innovative platform technologies that can be used to develop vaccines and other immunoprophylactics to rapidly respond to future outbreaks of Disease X. This call is temporarily on pause as CEPI focuses its resources on our COVID-19 vaccine development efforts and current vaccine portfolio.
For more information on how we are using rapid-response platforms to respond to COVID-19, please visit our COVID-19 page.
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