CEPI partners with Bharat Biotech, others to develop variant-proof Covid vaccine

The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) on Tuesday announced the latest award under its $200m programme to advance the development of vaccines that provide broad protection against SARS-Cov-2 variants and other beta coronaviruses.

The CEPI will provide funding of up to $19.3 million to support the development of a “variant-proof” SARS-CoV-2 vaccine candidate to an international multidisciplinary consortium comprising Bharat Biotech International Ltd (BBIL), India, the University of Sydney, Australia, and ExcellGene SA, Switzerland.

According to a joint statement released here, the 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.

The CEPI will fund the researchers to conduct activities including immunogen design, preclinical studies, manufacturing process development, and a Phase 1 clinical trial.

In this 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 beta coronaviruses, as well as vaccines against ‘Disease X’ -unknown pathogens with pandemic potential that may emerge in the future.

Under the terms of the funding agreement, the consortium partners have committed to achieving equitable access to the outputs of this project, in line with the CEPI’s equitable access policy.

“As repeated waves of Covid-19 infection remind us, we will be living alongside the virus for many years to come. 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,” said Dr Richard Hatchett, CEO of the CEPI.

“BBIL has successfully commercialised a universal Covid-19 vaccine for adults and children. While current generations of vaccines are safe and effective, against currently known variants, it is imperative that we focus on innovation for multi-epitope vaccines, where a single vaccine can protect against all future variants. Our expertise in product development and innovation, especially with novel adjuvants and platform technologies will add to the strong partnership with CEPI, ExcellGene, and the University of Sydney,” said Dr Krishna Ella, Chairman and Managing Director, BBIL said.

“Our mission is to deliver safe, affordable and highly effective vaccines to combat existing and future SARS-CoV-2 variants, and our international consortium is well placed to achieve this goal. The University of Sydney will provide a framework for pre-clinical assessment of vaccine candidates, together with access to Australia’s world-class early phase clinical trial community,” said Prof James Triccas, Sydney Institute for Infectious Diseases, The University of Sydney.

“Our technological platform for innovative protein designs was used in the past to identify and manufacture an antigen for an Ebola candidate vaccine, resulting in sterilizing immunity in pre-clinical challenge models. For the current Covid-19 project we are using similar approaches to generate numerous antigen preparations derived from spike protein variants of SARS-CoV-2, focussing eventually on the most promising antigen for vaccine purposes. Obtaining funding and scientific advice from CEPI to further our ongoing collaborations with the University of Sydney and Bharat Biotech is an exciting and most gratifying perspective and will, we hope, contribute towards the science for this and other novel protein-based vaccines,” said Dr Maria J. Wurm, CEO, ExcellGene.

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