Preventing epidemics before they break out

Article by Staff Writer

A COALITION has set its sights on developing vaccines for emerging infectious diseases, and producing them more quickly in an effort to prevent epidemics.

The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) is funded by governments and philanthropists, and will use its initial investment of US$460m to build up defences against three diseases that threaten to cause serious epidemics.

These are MERS-CoV, Lassa, and Nipah viruses. The group will fund the development of two vaccines to guard against each, and make sure they are readily available if an outbreak begins. CEPI will not fund drug discovery or vaccine delivery but will work on all the steps in between. It will not produce vaccines for profit and its mission is to get vaccines to those who need them regardless of cost.

It is calling for proposals from researchers and companies around the world to support the development of vaccines against its three target diseases.

CEPI also wants to shorten the time it takes to develop new vaccines for health threats that suddenly emerge, as Zika did recently. It plans to do this by investigating the use of adaptable vaccine platforms that rely on the likes of DNA, RNA and viral vectors for more rapid vaccine production. In the longer term it will also look to co-fund manufacturing facilities that could respond quickly to previously unknown pathogens.

Bill Gates, whose foundation has given US$100m to CEPI, said at the launch of the initiative at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos last week: “Ebola and Zika showed that the world is tragically unprepared to detect local outbreaks and respond quickly enough to prevent them from becoming global pandemics. Without investments in research and development, we will remain unequipped when we face the next threat.

“The ability to rapidly develop and deliver vaccines when new ‘unknown’ diseases emerge offers our best hope to outpace outbreaks, save lives and avert disastrous economic consequences. CEPI is a great example of how supporting innovation and R&D can help the world to address some of its most pressing health challenges.”

CEPI vice-chair Peter Piot, who is also director of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: “The concept of CEPI was born out of the devastating Ebola epidemic in West Africa which killed 11,000 people. During the outbreak there was an extraordinary collaboration between pharmaceutical companies, academics, funders, emergency responders and the World Health Organization to drive forward vaccine development. But in reality this was an ad-hoc effort and we were lucky there were vaccines already in the pipeline. Such a situation is unlikely to be repeated, and for future disease outbreaks we need to be much better prepared.”

CEPI is funded by the Wellcome Trust, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the governments of Norway, Japan and Germany. Its supporting partners include a number of Big Pharma companies including GSK, Merck and Pfizer. It is seeking new partners to inject the cash needed to reach its investment target of US$1bn for its first five years of operation.

Article by Staff Writer

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