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CEPI Funds Multi-Variant Covid-19 Vaccine

SARS-CoV-2 and cell

Scanning electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2 viruses emerging from the surface of cells cultured in the lab. (NIAID, NIH)

13 Dec. 2021. Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations or CEPI is funding a new vaccine to protect against emerging Covid-19 variants and other coronaviruses. Affinivax Inc. in Cambridge, Massachusetts is receiving $4.5 million from CEPI for a vaccine designed to stop a broad range of variants in the SARS-CoV-2 virus as well as coronaviruses in the same family as SARS-CoV-2.

CEPI, based in Oslo, Norway, is an international consortium of global health organizations and agencies begun in 2017 that supports creation of vaccines to prevent against epidemic and pandemic threats worldwide. In January 2019, as reported in Science & Enterprise, a year before the emergence of Covid-19, CEPI began work on new ways to cut the time needed to develop, test, and manufacture new vaccines to as little as six months. CEPI is also an early funder of Covid-19 vaccines, including the Moderna vaccine approved in most parts of the world.

Affinivax develops vaccines that generate multiple types of immune responses and, according to the company, provides broader and stronger protection against pathogens. The company’s technology, called Multiple Antigen Presenting System or MAPS, produces antigens that invoke two types of immune responses. Affinivax says MAPS generates simple and stable rhizavidin proteins that bind polysaccharide to protein antigens, with a process more direct and durable than used in conventional vaccines. The result, says the company, is a strong immune response from both B- and T-cells in the immune system, providing broader protection than conventional vaccines.

Most of the company’s vaccine pipeline is designed to protect against bacterial infectious diseases, with its lead product for Streptococcus pneumonia infections tested in a mid-stage clinical trial. Streptococcus pneumonia infections can lead to pneumonia, as well as sepsis and meningitis. Affinivax licensed the vaccine, code-named ASP3772, to drug maker Astellas for clinical development.

Covid-19, SARS, MERS, and others

Astellas and Affinivax reported results of the trial to a scientific meeting in Vienna in July 2021, showing ASP3772 largely safe and well-tolerated, with no serious adverse effects. In addition, trial participants displayed antibody responses to all 24 variants of the Streptococcus pneumonia bacterium designed into the vaccine. Also, the Food and Drug Administration granted ASP3772 a breakthrough therapy designation for prevention of pneumonia and invasive diseases for people age 50 and over.

The $4.5 million CEPI grant funds development of a new Covid-19 vaccine built with the MAPS technology. The project calls for Affinivax to design the vaccine to cover a wide range of SARS-CoV-2 variants, as well as other viruses in the same coronavirus family as SARS-CoV-2 including the original Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome or SARS and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome or MERS coronaviruses that emerged in the past 20 years. The funding includes development through preclinical stages.

“Our MAPS technology platform,” says Affinivax CEO Steven Brugger in a statement, “represents a fundamentally different approach to vaccine development that allows us to combine multiple antigens into a single MAPS vaccine to potentially address the continued threat of emerging Covid-19 variants.”

In addition, Affinivax will design the vaccine to be suitable for distribution in lower-resource regions of the world, which could mean without the need for refrigeration or freezing, as required by Covid-19 vaccines made with messenger RNA. The company also agrees to provide equitable access to the vaccine worldwide, a standard requirement for CEPI grant recipients.

“Through our partnership with Affinivax,” adds CEPI CEO Richard Hatchett, “we are taking the first steps towards developing a vaccine capable of tackling a broad range of variants, to help us stay one step ahead of the virus in the future. Developing variant-proof Covid-19 vaccines and enabling equitable access to them is vital for global health security.”

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