Continuing to flesh out medical countermeasure options for the ongoing threat of COVID-19, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) announced this week that it will provide $13.1 million to Shanghai Zerun Biotechnology Co., Ltd. for clinical trials and scale-up support of vaccine candidates.
The candidate in question uses a stabilized version of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein in trimer form — a three-part molecule — structurally adjusted to improve stimulation of immune response against any new SARS-CoV-2 variants. Coupled with an adjuvant known as CpG7909 to improve immune response, preclinical studies carried out by ZerunBio have demonstrated the production of high titres of neutralizing antibodies and healthy T-cell immune responses.
“The emergence of vaccine-resistant COVID-19 variants threatens to undermine the progress the world has made over the past 18 months,” Dr. Richard Hatchett, CEO of CEPI, said. “The Delta variant is already rendering our current batch of vaccines less able to prevent symptomatic infection. Thankfully, they are still effective at preventing severe disease and hospitalisation; but we cannot afford to be complacent. CEPI and ZerunBio’s partnership will strengthen our ability to control COVID-19.”
ZerunBio’s candidate could provide other advantages beyond the ability to cross-protect against new variants of SARS-CoV-2 as well: scalability and thermostability, which some candidates lack. However, this will be determined through a Phase 1 clinical trial funded by CEPI, along with process optimization and scale-up of the prototype vaccine, and preclinical studies and phase I clinical trial of the variant vaccine. If early-stage clinical development is successful, CEPI may invest further in the candidate, pushing it toward national and global licensure.
If successful, the candidate would also be provided to and allocated by the COVAX Facility, which CEPI helps run. COVAX exists to guarantee equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for all participating countries, regardless of means.
“The grant reflects the recognition of CEPI on our vaccine development platform and knowledge and dedication of our team, which have been working tirelessly with a firm determination to contribute to fighting this global pandemic,” Jiankang Zhang, Vice President of ZerunBio parent company Walvax, as well as CEO & president of ZerunBio, said. “Partnering with CEPI, we can surely accelerate the development to achieve our goal of making a safe, effective, and affordable COVID-19 vaccine to the world.”