CEPI consortium to develop 'variant-proof' COVID vaccine
The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) has announced it will provide funding of up to US$19.3 million ($27.74 million) to support the development of a ‘variant-proof’ SARS-CoV-2 vaccine candidate to an international consortium comprising Bharat Biotech in India, The University of Sydney in Australia and ExcellGene in Switzerland. The work forms an important part of CEPI’s five-year plan to reduce or even eliminate the future risk of pandemics and epidemics.
CEPI’s funding will support the consortium as it seeks to establish preclinical and clinical proof of concept for an adjuvanted subunit vaccine designed to provide broad protection against all known SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern, as well as future variants of the virus which have not yet emerged. CEPI will fund the researchers to conduct activities including immunogen design (to trigger a strong immune response), preclinical studies, manufacturing process development and a Phase 1 clinical trial.
Dr Claudio Counoupas of Sydney’s Centenary Institute, preclinical lead investigator on the project, said the protein subunit design involves the combination of antigenic components with immune-stimulating adjuvants. “These protein subunit vaccines have been in use for decades and have an excellent record in terms of safety and efficacy,” he said. “In addition, protein subunit vaccines can be stored and transported at ambient temperature and can induce long-lasting immunity.”
In the new vaccine design, modified trimeric spike immunogens will be produced in a robust and scalable process with high purity and yield at low cost, based on a biomanufacturing approach that has provided significant quantities of protein therapeutics to the world. This strategy could also be used to enable rapid development of broadly protective vaccines against other betacoronaviruses, as well as vaccines against Disease X — unknown pathogens with pandemic potential that emerge in the future.
“As repeated waves of COVID-19 infection remind us, we will be living alongside the virus for many years to come,” said CEPI CEO Dr Richard Hatchett. “The threat of a new variant emerging that might evade the protection of our current vaccines is real, so investing in R&D for variant-proof SARS-CoV-2 vaccines is a global health security imperative. Our partnership with Bharat Biotech, University of Sydney and ExcellGene will advance the development of a vaccine candidate to protect against future variants of COVID-19, potentially contributing to the long-term control of the virus.”
Professor James Triccas, from the Sydney Institute for Infectious Diseases, said The University of Sydney will provide a framework for preclinical assessment of vaccine candidates, together with access to Australia’s early-phase clinical trial community. Dr Krishna Ella, Chairman and Managing Director of Bharat Biotech, added that his company has already commercialised a universal COVID-19 vaccine for adults and children, and that the consortium will benefit from its expertise in novel adjuvants and platform technologies.
ExcellGene CEO Dr Maria J Wurm said her company’s technological platform for innovative protein designs was used in the past to identify and manufacture an antigen for an Ebola candidate vaccine, resulting in sterilising immunity in preclinical challenge models. A similar approach will be used to generate numerous antigen preparations derived from spike protein variants of SARS-CoV-2, focusing eventually on the most promising antigen for vaccine purposes.
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