The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness (CEPI) has announced collaborations with VBI Vaccines (VBI) and SK bioscience to develop vaccine candidates against variants of SARS-CoV-2, including the South African variant.
Vaccine vs. mutation
Whilst several countries have now approved and are rolling out COVID-19 vaccines, emerging research is suggesting that current vaccines may not be as effective against new variants of SARS-CoV-2. This could threaten to reverse the effects of global efforts to reduce transmission of (and deaths from) the virus.
Consequently, scientists are now being drawn into a game of "whack-a-mole" with SARS-CoV-2, as demand for the development of new COVID-19 vaccine candidates continues. CEPI is one of many organizations playing a part in this second wave of vaccine development.
“Remarkable progress has been made to develop safe and effective vaccines against COVID-19,” said Dr Richard Hatchett, CEO of CEPI, in a recent press release, “But in parallel to the global roll out of vaccines we must now redouble our R&D efforts so we have the tools we need to tackle emerging variants of the virus.”
Expanding existing partnerships
CEPI has previously collaborated with SK bioscience, providing $10 million towards the cost of Phase I/II trials of its recombinant protein vaccine candidate, GBP510. Now, an expansion of this partnership will include up to $14.2 million to support the adaptation of GBP510 for use against new variants of SARS-CoV-2 and a further $12.5 million to enable the scaling-up of SK bioscience’s manufacturing methods.
Developed jointly with the Institute for Protein Design (IPD) at the University of Washington, GBP510 consists of the receptor binding domain (RBD) of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein and a "central core" nanoparticle, designed to optimize exposure of the RBD and thus elicit a potent immune response.1
“We hope that our nanoparticle platform may help fight this pandemic that is causing so much damage to our world. The potency, stability, and manufacturability of this vaccine candidate differentiate it from many others under investigation,” said Neil King, head of vaccine design at the IPD, in a press release.
Creating new collaborations
New partnerships are also being forged in the second wave of vaccine development: CEPI is working with VBI to advance the latter’s suite of envelope virus-like protein (eVLP)-based vaccine candidates. The genetic material of SARS-CoV-2 is encased by an envelope, which in part consists of so-called envelope proteins. By mimicking SARS-CoV-2 envelope proteins, eVLP-based vaccines with multiple protein copies may stimulate a significant immune response.
Up to $33 million funding from CEPI will be used to develop vaccines based on this technology, including Phase I trials of VBI-2905, a vaccine against the South African variant of SARS-CoV-2. A portion of this funding will also go towards preclinical expansion of VBI’s other multivalent candidates, as part of an effort to quickly tackle future variants.
Jeff Baxter, president and CEO of VBI, expressed his thoughts on the partnership in a press release:
“We are grateful for CEPI’s partnership, support and confidence in our eVLP approach to vaccine development. We look forward to working with CEPI, who has played a crucial role in the development of COVID-19 vaccines over the last 12 months, and we remain steadfast in our mission to contribute to the end of the ongoing pandemic and the long-term protection against coronaviruses.”
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Reference: Walls AC, Fiala B, Schäfer A, et al. Elicitation of potent neutralizing antibody responses by designed protein nanoparticle vaccines for SARS-CoV-2. Cell. 2020. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2020.10.043.