NORWAY – CEPI, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, and NEC Corporation have announced the latest funding award under their US$200 million program to accelerate the development of vaccines that provide broad protection against SARS-CoV-2 variants and other betacoronaviruses.
CEPI will provide up to US$4.8 million in seed funding to NEC OncoImmunity AS (NOI), a Norwegian subsidiary of NEC that specializes in artificial intelligence-driven biotechnology, to support the initial development of broadly protective betacoronavirus vaccine candidates.
Through NOI, NEC will lead a research consortium that includes the European Vaccine Initiative (EVI) and Oslo University Hospital to deliver a project aimed at establishing preclinical proof of concept for a vaccine based on mRNA technology that protects against a wide range of betacoronaviruses.
NEC will use its experience and capabilities in artificial intelligence-powered immunogen design to identify novel vaccine antigens with broad anti-betacoronavirus reactivity.
The lead antigens will be chosen iteratively and validated in preclinical studies against known betacoronaviruses, such as SARS-CoV, SARS-CoV-2, and MERS-CoV, which already pose a significant epidemic or pandemic risk.
If this novel approach is successful, it could be used to develop vaccines against other pathogens in the CEPI portfolio, such as ‘Disease X’ – unknown pathogens with pandemic potential that have yet to emerge.
CEPI is dedicated to ensuring equitable access to the vaccines it funds. According to the terms of the funding agreement, NEC has committed to achieving equitable access to the project’s outputs in accordance with CEPI’s Equitable Access Policy.
Betacoronaviruses are types of coronavirus that cause Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), which have been responsible for major epidemics in Asia and the Middle East in recent years, and also SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr Richard Hatchett, CEO of CEPI, said: “Coronaviruses have now proven their pandemic potential with devastating consequences, and COVID-19 won’t be the last coronavirus to threaten humanity.
“That’s why CEPI’s ambitious programme to develop globally accessible vaccines that protect against a broad range of coronaviruses – before those pathogens emerge – is critical to global health security.”
Ken Ishii, Professor, the Institute of Medical Science, the University of Tokyo said: “For the Japanese vaccine industry, NEC’s participation in this global challenge is great news.
“We look forward to it contributing to the early countermeasures against pandemics by advancing the speedy development of safer and more effective vaccines with the new science approach of utilizing AI.”
Vaccines development funding
CEPI has to date announced funding for eight programs to advance the development of vaccines that could provide broad protection against SARS-CoV-2 variants and other betacoronaviruses.
MigVax Ltd has received funding of US$4.3m to support the initial development of a new orally administered subunit vaccine tablet that could offer broad protection against SARS-CoV-2 variants.
University of Saskatchewan’s Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO) – funding of US$5m to support the initial development of a new vaccine based on VIDO’s novel protein subunit technology that could offer broad protection against SARS-CoV-2 variants.
Affinivax has received funding of up to US$4.5m to support the initial development of a vaccine candidate based on Affinivax’s MAPS platform that could offer broad protection against SARS-CoV-2 variants.
SK bioscience has received funding of up to US$50m to support the development of a vaccine candidate based on SK’s nanoparticle vaccine platform to elicit immune responses that could protect against variants of both SARS-CoV, SARS-CoV-2, and other sarbecoviruses.
Translational Health Science and Technology Institute (THSTI) and Panacea Biotec – funding of up to US$12.5m to support the development of multi-epitope, nanoparticle-based vaccine candidates that could provide broad protection against SARS-CoV-2 variants and other Betacoronaviruses.
BioNet has received funding of up to US$16.9m to advance the development of a novel mRNA-based vaccine that could offer broad protection against SARS-CoV-2 variants.
DIOSynVax has received a funding of up to US$42m to support the development of a broadly protective Betacoronavirus vaccine using mRNA platform technology.
NEC Corporation’s funding amounts to US$4.8m to support the initial development of an AI-designed vaccine based on mRNA technology that protects against a broad range of betacoronaviruses.