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Thursday, March 4th, 2021

CEPI builds collaborative task force to monitor new COVID-19 viral strains and their effects on vaccines

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As the world moves closer to one or more potential COVID-19 vaccines, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) has formed a collaborative effort to monitor the emergence of new COVID-19 viral strains and evaluate any impacts they may have on those candidates.

Other coalition members include the GISAID Initiative, Public Health England, and the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control (NIBSC). Together, they intend to strengthen the global tracking and testing of SARS-CoV-2 sequences. Since the first SARS-CoV-2 viral genomes were shared through GISAID — a global science initiative and the primary source of virological data of the SARS-CoV-2 virus — more than 200,000 sequences have been made publicly available.

“It is imperative that we have a system in place to test whether the tools we are developing can respond effectively,” Dr. Richard Hatchett, CEO of CEPI, said. “This joint collaboration between CEPI, GISAID, Public Health England, and the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control, fills a key gap in the global outbreak response through acting as a mechanism to both monitor and test emerging viral strains and evaluate whether these circulating strains may impact COVID-19 vaccine development. Through this effort, we can provide information to support continuing global efforts to develop effective COVID-19 vaccines and bring an end to this pandemic as quickly as possible.”

CEPI will support GISAID in meeting user demands and technical enhancements on data submission and the strengthening of reporting by public health labs. In turn, GISAID will produce regular reports on genomic diversity to bolster the investigation of the spike protein sequence’s diversity, which is a major target for COVID-19 vaccine development. By tracking diversity, scientists can make sure current vaccine candidates can be tested against existing viral strains.

New strains are already emerging. A mutant strain recently cropped up in Denmark, fueled by mink populations. That incident prompted a major culling of mink populations.

In all, CEPI will provide GISAID with $1.3 million in funding. Another up to $1.3 million will be issued to PHE and the NIBSC for neutralization tests to provide data on vaccine candidate effectiveness against new SARS-CoV-2 strains. If GISAID reports a new strain with a possibly significant sequence mutation, CEPI will inform those other partners to conduct tests and determine whether antibodies are still able to neutralize it.

“Not only does this mechanism provide a way for the world to quickly adapt its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, it also serves as a guide when building the necessary systems to tackle future outbreaks,” Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, World Health Organization Chief Scientist, said.