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CEPI Funds New Broad Coronavirus Vaccine

Exosome illustration

Exosome illustration (NIH)

5 July 2022. An international health group is funding a new vaccine to cover a broad range of coronaviruses using exosomes, tiny natural bubbles for delivery to cells. Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations or CEPI in Oslo, Norway is financing work by biotechnology company Codiak BioSciences in Cambridge, Massachusetts, although the amount of the grant is not disclosed.

Exosomes are nanoscale natural oil bubbles emitted by cells into body fluids that carry proteins and genetic materials throughout the body, by gathering up and secreting excess cellular materials. While originally considered to have maintenance functions, the potential of exosomes as a mechanism for treating disease is attracting more interest from researchers. In Jan. 2021, Science & Enterprise reported on work by a team from M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, part of the University of Texas system, and Northwestern University investigating engineered exosomes that carry ACE2 proteins on their surface as a treatment for Covid-19 infections.

One of researchers on that team is Raghu Kalluri at M.D. Anderson, who studies exosomes as part of the metastatic process of tumors and the microenvironment that protects tumors. Codiak BioSciences licenses Kalluri’s earlier research on exosomes, and now develops therapies for blood-related and solid-tumor cancers, gene therapies, and vaccines for infectious diseases. The company says its vaccine platform, called exoVacc, engineers exosomes to express antigens, either on the surface or inside. For coronaviruses, says Codiak, its process creates exosomes with receptor-binding domain proteins on the surface, and T-cell antigens in the interior with a STING agonist, a protein to stimulate an immune response studied for cancer therapies.

A model for “Disease X”

Codiak Bio says exosomes with this design stimulate antibody and T-cell immune responses against multiple SARS-CoV-2 variants including those of concern known today. The CEPI grant is funding further preclinical development of this model to cover a wide range of betacoronaviruses that include the original SARS virus (SARS-Cov-1) and SARS-CoV-2, as well as Middle East respiratory syndrome or MERS viruses. If this approach is successful, say CEPI and Codiak, it could become an approach for quickly developing vaccines against further pandemics from yet unknown pathogens, what CEPI calls “Disease X”.

While the Codiak Bio grant amount is not disclosed, CEPI says the funds are part of the group’s $200 million program to quickly develop new vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 and betacoronaviruses in general. In this project, Codiak is partnering with Ragon Institute, a research center affiliated with Mass. General Hospital, MIT, and Harvard University that studies immunology for vaccines and treatments, beginning with HIV and broadened to other diseases.

Sriram Sathyanarayanan, chief scientist at Codiak Bio says in a statement, “We realize that collaboration is essential to meet the challenge of coronaviruses, current and future, and are thrilled to be working with both CEPI and the Ragon Institute, whom we partnered with to identify and source optimal T-cell epitopes that are highly conserved and invariant across all betacoronaviruses to engineer into our vaccine candidates.”

“We’ve seen extraordinary advances in vaccinology over the past couple of years,” adds CEPI CEO Richard Hatchett. “Now we need to build on these advances, so we can strengthen our defenses against the SARS-CoV-2 and stay one step ahead of it, and other coronavirus threats.”

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