Global partnership launched to prevent epidemics with new vaccines

A global coalition to create new vaccines for emerging infectious diseases, designed to help give the world an insurance policy against epidemics has launched at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

CEPI - the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations  - is a collaboration between government, industry, philanthropy and civil society, to finance and coordinate the development of vaccines against known infectious diseases threats. It aims to have safe and effective vaccines ready to be deployed rapidly to contain outbreaks before they become global health emergencies.

With an initial investment of US$460m from the governments of Germany, Japan and Norway, plus the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust, CEPI has raised almost half of the $1bn it needs for its first five years. It is now calling for proposals from researchers and companies around the world to support the development of vaccines against its first target diseases.

CEPI will initially target the MERS-CoV, Lassa and Nipah viruses, which have known potential to cause serious epidemics. It aims to develop two promising vaccine candidates against each of these diseases before any epidemic, so these are available without delay if and when an outbreak begins.

Professor Peter Piot, Director of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, is Vice-Chair of CEPI. He said: "The concept of CEPI was born out of the devastating Ebola epidemic in West Africa which killed 11,000 people. During the outbreak there was an extraordinary collaboration between pharmaceutical companies, academics, funders, emergency responders and the World Health Organization to drive forward vaccine development. But in reality this was an ad-hoc effort and we were lucky there were vaccines already in the pipeline. Such a situation is unlikely to be repeated, and for future disease outbreaks we need to be much better prepared.

"There are many viruses out there which could pose a serious threat to global health, but predicting epidemics is a near impossible business. We don't know which virus will be next and where it will strike, although the poorest countries are often the most vulnerable. For new vaccines to have maximum impact, they must be ready to go before an outbreak hits. That's why we need to be one step ahead, and invest in the development of vaccines against emerging diseases which have the potential to cause severe outbreaks and devastate societies and economies around the world."

Bill Gates, Co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said: "Ebola and Zika showed that the world is tragically unprepared to detect local outbreaks and respond quickly enough to prevent them from becoming global pandemics. Without investments in research and development, we will remain unequipped when we face the next threat.

"The ability to rapidly develop and deliver vaccines when new 'unknown' diseases emerge offers our best hope to outpace outbreaks, save lives and avert disastrous economic consequences. CEPI is a great example of how supporting innovation and R&D can help the world to address some of its most pressing health challenges."

In addition to funding MERS, Lassa and Nipah vaccines, CEPI will explore ways to support vaccines against multiple strains of the Ebola and Marburg viruses, and Zika. It will also fund development of new vaccine technologies that could be adapted to respond to previously unknown pathogens that emerge suddenly as threats, as Zika did.

Dr Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust, said: "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."

CEPI was founded by the governments of India and Norway, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Wellcome and the World Economic Forum, which has played a key convening role, bringing together stakeholders at the 2016 Davos meeting and other events. The Government of India is finalising the level of a significant funding commitment to CEPI.

The European Commission will contribute to CEPI's objectives and plans to co-fund actions with CEPI, such as through the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI).

The coalition is backed by the World Health Organization and Médecins Sans Frontières, pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries, and academic research groups.

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