CEPI launches funding call to develop broad-based coronavirus vaccines

CEPI launches funding call to develop broad-based coronavirus vaccines

CEPI, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, launched a call for proposals to develop broadly protective SARS-CoV-2 vaccines and broadly protective Betacoronavirus vaccines.

CEPI plans to invest up to US$200 million in promising vaccine candidates up to clinical proof of concept.

The main focus of this call for proposals is to support the research and development of novel immunogens (i.e., antigens that elicit an adaptive immune response) for use in vaccines that can elicit durable, broadly protective immune responses.

This opportunity will be open, worldwide, to research and development organisations with expertise in vaccine development.

The call for proposals invites funding application for the development of the following:

A broadly protective vaccine against new emerging variants and variants of concern of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, with funding up to 18-24 months to achieve clinical proof of concept.

A broadly protective Betacoronavirus vaccine with funding potentially awarded for up to 4 years to demonstrate clinical proof of concept.

Betacoronaviruses are types of coronavirus that cause Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), which have been responsible for major epidemics in Asia and the Middle East in recent years, and also SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Need for broadly protective vaccines

CEPI’s call to develop broadly protective coronavirus vaccines forms part of its long-term $3.5bn investment strategy, announced earlier in March 2021.

Coronaviruses have now demonstrated their pandemic potential. The SARS and MERS coronaviruses are associated with case fatality rates of 10%-35% (5-16 times worse than COVID-19) and we know that coronaviruses circulate widely in animal reservoirs.

While the world has made great advances in vaccines development against the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, variants of concern (such as B.1.1.7; B.1.153, and P.1) now pose a threat to this progress. They spread rapidly, can reinfect people who have been infected before, and they are rendering our countermeasures—including our vaccines and monoclonal-antibody treatments—less effective. The increased transmissibility of these variants could result in a reversal in the global downward trends in transmission seen in recent weeks resulting in a renewed burden on health systems, and more deaths.

“The emergence of a coronavirus combining the transmissibility of COVID-19 with the lethality of SARS or MERS would be devastating to civilization. Finding solutions to mitigate the threat posed by coronaviruses is thus an issue of the greatest global urgency, said Melanie Saville, Director of Vaccine R&D at CEPI in a statement.

CEPI aims to build on the technological advances that have been made in response to COVID-19 to develop an all-encompassing vaccine that could work against known Betacoronaviruses, including SARS, MERS, and COVID-19, and could potentially be used to quickly suppress future outbreaks of other novel coronaviruses that might jump into the human population.

This will be an incredibly challenging area of work, but one with tremendous benefits. A broadly protective coronavirus vaccine could help avert another COVID-19-like pandemic, reduce the need to continually update vaccine components, and ultimately reduce virus circulation, she added.

CEPI has already begun the development of vaccines against variants of concern, but additional approaches are needed to ensure that we can stay one step ahead of the threat posed by these variants, other Betacoronaviruses, and potentially novel coronaviruses that have yet to emerge.

The ultimate objective will be developing a vaccine that provides broad protection against the whole Betacoronavirus genus. The effort will build on the vaccine technologies validated in the COVID-19 response to advance our understanding of coronavirus immunology and viral evolution and has recently issued another call for proposals seeking to enlist structural biologists to identify the viral family’s weak points.

Awardees receiving funds through this call for proposals will be required to make commitments in line with CEPI’s Equitable Access Policy.