New Global Consortium Aims to Create and Stockpile New Vaccines

Johannes Jansson via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.5 dk
Johannes Jansson via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.5 dk / Johannes Jansson via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.5 dk

An international coalition of researchers and public health officials have created a billion-dollar initiative to create and stockpile vaccines in the hope of preventing future epidemics. The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) launched January 18 at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

CEPI’s mission is simple: to prevent epidemics in the future by creating and amassing effective vaccines now. Vaccine development is a slow process, often requiring 10 or more years of research and testing before they’re ready and safe for human use.

But as we learned during the West African Ebola outbreak of 2013, disease epidemics don’t give us 10 years to catch up. Researchers were able to adapt existing experimental drugs to produce an effective vaccine in record time. Even that was too long to wait.

Jeremy Farrar is director of the Wellcome Trust, one of CEPI’s backing organizations. He remembers the 2013 outbreak with dismay. “We had to spend what was 9–12 months getting safety data for those vaccines, and that was 9–12 months where ultimately many people lost their lives,” he told Nature.

CEPI aims to eliminate those deadly months of lag time. Their research teams are first looking to create vaccines for the diseases most likely to cause massive outbreaks in the near future: Nipah virus, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), and Lassa fever.

Researchers say coalition members’ diverse backgrounds and expertise—from academia to business and government organizations—will be a huge asset to the project. “For too long, we have separated out the academic work from the next step of taking it into all that is actually required to make a vaccine,” Farrar told Nature.

The coalition has already secured $460 million USD in support from Norway, Germany, Japan, the Wellcome Trust, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and representatives say they expect to raise the rest by the end of 2017.

[h/t Nature]