A grant of up to $20 million was awarded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) this week to expand its portfolio of potential COVID-19 vaccines and address gaps in current development.
Significant gains have been made in development since COVID-19 first appeared, with 47 candidates reaching clinical trials within 11 months. CEPI has created a portfolio with nine vaccine candidates and aims to develop three for global manufacturing and dispersal through COVAX, a joint venture of CEPI, Gavi, and the World Health Organization (WHO). Despite this, CEPI CEO Dr. Richard Hatchett warned that another $800 million is still needed to get the most promising vaccines through to licensure.
“Ending this pandemic will require a range of vaccines that are optimized for use in different populations and settings, so it’s crucial that we take stock of the current vaccines in development and begin work now to fill in any potential gaps,” Hatchett said. “The funding from our partners at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will help us to stay one step ahead of the virus by supporting investments in the ‘next generation’ of vaccine candidates with different characteristics to those already in development, giving the world additional options to control the virus in the future.”
Next generation refers to Wave 2 vaccine candidates — candidates currently in early stages of development that are distinctive scientifically, technically, or in manufacturing compared to those currently in advanced development. Such vaccines will be chosen based on characteristics that make them attractive for specific target populations and low-resource settings rife with logistical challenges for traditional vaccines.
These vaccines will be considered based on their potential after a single vaccine dose, their temperature and manufacturing stability, improved or differentiated immune response, and the use of different antigens. The Gates Foundation grant will allow three to six more candidates to move through phase 1/2 clinical testing next year and support other development efforts.
“There’s a long road ahead, and innovation is an essential part of the equation for ending the COVID-19 pandemic,” Mark Suzman, CEO of the Gates Foundation, said. “Equally important is ensuring organizations like CEPI and Gavi have the funding necessary to develop and deliver these tools via COVAX. We are pleased that these funds will allow CEPI to kick-start the development of additional vaccine candidates that address the needs of lower-income countries.”
Vaccines supported by this funding injection will be chosen by the end of the year. CEPI hopes to produce 1 billion doses of vaccines from Wave 2 candidates by the end of 2022.