The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) backed efforts at developing a “variant-proof” COVID-19 vaccine this week, announcing that it will provide up to $19.3 million to an international consortium consisting of Bharat Biotech International Ltd., the University of Sydney and ExcellGene SA.
Banding together partners and experts from India, Australia, and Switzerland, the effort is focused on developing a vaccine capable of enabling broad protection against the SARS-CoV-2 virus and its variants. CEPI funding will support both preclinical and clinical pursuits of proof of concept, from immunogen design to studies, manufacturing process development, and up through a Phase 1 clinical trial.
“As repeated waves of COVID-19 infection remind us, we will be living alongside the virus for many years to come,” Dr. Richard Hatchett, CEO of CEPI, said. “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.”
Investment from CEPI comes from a $200 million umbrella program to advance the development of vaccines for COVID-19, its variants, and other betacoronaviruses. This particular candidate will be unique because of modified trimeric spike immunogens produced through a low cost, scalable, high purity, and yield process, all based on a proven biomanufacturing approach utilized for many protein therapeutics. CEPI hopes that, if successful, the method could also provide rapid development of other betacoronavirus vaccines and pathogens with pandemic potential.
“BBIL has successfully commercialized a universal COVID-19 vaccine for adults and children,” Dr. Krishna Ella, chairman and managing director of BBIL, said. “While current generation 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.”
BBIL will pair its developmental experience with the University of Sydney’s clinical trial access and framework, as well as platforms for protein designs developed by ExcellGene.
By partnering with CEPI, the consortium has also agreed to make anything produced by this project equitably accessible.