CEPI can develop new vaccines to fight epidemics – but it needs global funding

Vaccines are a vital part of fighting epidemics, but developing new ones is challenging, costly and complex. The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation (CEPI) is a new model for funding vaccine development which could drastically change the way we tackle epidemics.

Forest officials in the Indian state of Kerala deposit a bat into a container
Forest officials in the Indian state of Kerala deposit a bat into a container. The deadly Nipah virus is carried mainly by fruit bats.
Credit: AFP/Getty Images
Listen to this article
CEPI can develop new vaccines to fight epidemics – but it needs global funding
Elapsed time:00:00Total time:00:00

A collaboration between government, industry, philanthropy and civil society, CEPI, launched in January 2017 at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Its aim is to finance and coordinate development of vaccines against known and unknown infectious diseases so they can be used to contain outbreaks before they become emergencies.

CEPI was formed in response to expert reports into the 2013-16 Ebola outbreak, calling for a new system to stimulate vaccine development based on collective action and partnerships across sectors and countries.

Dr Charlie Weller, Wellcome's Head of Vaccines, says: "Ebola and Zika have shown epidemic diseases remain a grave threat to world health. When Ebola struck in 2013-16, the global community was not prepared. Potential vaccines existed but critically they had not been tested for safety, which delayed assessment of their effectiveness to protect against Ebola.

"Many more diseases exist which are known epidemic threats but for which we don’t have vaccines. CEPI is our chance to learn from the past and work together to prevent future epidemic tragedy."

CEPI’s mandate 

CEPI has six disease targets:

  • Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS)
  • Lassa fever
  • Nipah
  • Disease X
  • Rift Valley fever
  • Chikungunya.

The aim is to develop promising vaccine candidates against each known pathogen, up to and including phase 2 clinical trials. Then, if an outbreak occurs, the candidate vaccines can be tested on the ground to quickly determine whether they are effective at containing the disease.

CEPI also hopes to shorten the time it takes to develop new vaccines to protect against viruses that emerge suddenly as public health threats. This includes known pathogens for which no vaccines have been created, such as Zika, and unknown ones, the so-called ‘Disease X’.

And CEPI will capitalise on exciting developments in adaptable vaccine technology and invest in facilities that could respond quickly to previously unknown pathogens.

In response to its initial calls for proposals, CEPI has so far agreed several partnerships with researchers and companies around the world. These are the start of CEPI’s product development portfolio.

Research partnerships

To date, CEPI has committed over $280 million to nine partnerships.

  1. Up to $37.5m to Vienna-based Themis Bioscience to advance vaccines against Lassa fever and MERS.
  2. Up to $56m to Inovio Pharmaceuticals Inc to support pre-clinical and clinical advancement through phase 2 of its Lassa fever and MERS vaccines.
  3. $10.4m to support the first phase of a project by the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) for the development of its replicating viral vector-based Lassa vaccine candidate, rVSVΔG-LASV-GPC; CEPI has options to invest up to $54.9m over five years (including stockpile).
  4. Two agreements, one for up to $25m and a second for up to $36m, with Profectus Biosciences and Emergent Biosolutions to develop Nipah virus and Lassa virus vaccines.
  5. Up to $36m to IDT Biologika to develop a MERS vaccine.
  6. Up to $19m to the Jenner Institute, at the University of Oxford, and Janssen Vaccines & Prevention BV (part of the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson) to advance development and manufacturing of a vaccine against MERS. Preclinical development of novel vaccines against Lassa and Nipah viruses will also be part of this collaboration. 
  7. Up to $8.4m to Imperial College London to develop a self-amplifying RNA (saRNA) vaccine platform that enables tailored vaccine production against multiple viral pathogens.
  8. Up to $10.6m to University of Queensland to develop a ‘molecular clamp’ vaccine platform that enables targeted and rapid vaccine production against multiple viral pathogens.

More investment needed 

Co-founded by the governments of Norway and India, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Wellcome and the World Economic Forum, CEPI was built on a strong global mandate.

It is an unprecedented collaboration that spans across academia, public health agencies, industry, and philanthropic and government funders.

It is also innovative in its approach to funding – building partnerships with vaccine developers that share both the risks and benefits of vaccine development when traditional market incentives have failed.

With growing support from donors across the world, CEPI has raised $740 million of its $1 billion funding target.

Wellcome is joining existing funders in calling on other governments, philanthropic organisations and companies to add their support. If the world isn’t prepared for epidemics it could cost the global economy up to $600 billion in a decade. Alongside the human cost of epidemics, this far outweighs the investment needed in initiatives like CEPI.

Dr Jeremy Farrar, Wellcome Director, says: "We know from Ebola, Zika and SARS that epidemics are among the significant threats we face to life, health and prosperity. Vaccines can protect us, but we’ve done too little to develop them as an insurance policy. CEPI is our chance to learn the lessons of recent tragedies, and outsmart epidemics with new vaccine defences.

"If others join us in supporting CEPI, we can realise our goal of creating a safer world."

Funding and global backing

CEPI has received multi-year funding from  Japan, Germany, Norway, Canada, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Wellcome.

CEPI has also received single-year investments from the governments of Australia, Belgium and the UK. The European Commission has announced a contribution in kind of €250 million that will support relevant projects through EC mechanisms.

CEPI is backed by the World Health Organization, Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders, pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries and academic research groups.