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Intl Group Calls for More Coronavirus Vaccines

Hong Kong residents in masks

Residents of Hong Kong wearing masks to protect against 2019-nCOV infection (China News Service, Wikimedia Commons)

4 Feb. 2020. An international consortium issued a proposal call for more vaccines to protect against the novel coronavirus now spreading from China to the rest of the world. The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, or CEPI, a group of public health authorities, companies, and civil organizations in Oslo, Norway issued the call yesterday, but funding details were not disclosed.

Coronaviruses are a family of pathogens that range from the common cold, to more deadly Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) viruses, and are zoonotic, meaning they’re transmitted from animals to humans. World Health Organization says it became aware of several pneumonia cases in Wuhan City, China on 31 December 2019, but by 7 January 2020 authorities in China confirmed this was a new and previously unknown respiratory virus, with WHO calling it the novel coronavirus, or 2019-nCoV. By the end of January, WHO designated 2019-nCoV as an international public health emergency.

CEPI, formed in 2017, aims to stop known infectious disease outbreaks, but also establish platform technologies that can be activated against previously unknown pathogens, the so-called Disease X. As reported by Science & Enterprise on 23 January, CEPI asked a biotechnology lab at University of Queensland in Australia and Inovio Pharmaceuticals in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania to extend their current work for CEPI to cover 2019-nCoV.

CEPI also engaged biotechnology company Moderna Inc. in Cambridge, Massachusetts that develops vaccines with a technology based on messenger RNA, to develop a new vaccine against 2019-nCoV. The company is partnering with National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of National Institutes of Health, on the project.

The new call for proposals asks for more vaccine options against the novel coronavirus. CEPI opens the call for proposals to for-profit companies, academic labs, joint ventures, international organizations, and government agencies, but prefers proposals that demonstrate an international footprint and a commitment to transfer the vaccine technology to a global network for large-scale manufacturing. In addition, the new vaccines need to be easily delivered to patients at a cost that does not preclude broad access.

And to underscore the urgency, respondents to the call have less than two weeks to submit proposals, with a deadline of 14 February. As of today (4 February), according to a disease tracker system at Johns Hopkins University, more than 20,700 cases of 2019-nCoV are confirmed, with nearly 20,500 of those cases reported in China. So far, 427 deaths from the disease are reported. Cases extend to elsewhere in Asia, Europe, and North America.

Also yesterday, CEPI asked drug maker GlaxoSmithKline, or GSK, to develop a vaccine adjuvant to enhance any new 2019-nCoV vaccines. Adjuvants are added to vaccines to provide a stronger and longer-lasting immunity against an infectious disease, and in this case may make it possible to reduce the amount of antigen required in single doses of the vaccine.

Thomas Breuer, chief medical officer in GSK’s vaccines division says in a company statement, “Our adjuvant technology has previously been used successfully in the pandemic flu setting. It enables using only small quantities of the vaccine antigen, which allows the production of more doses of the vaccine, a crucial advantage in a pandemic.”

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