A word from Dr. Melanie Saville, CEPI: “The path out of the pandemic requires more vaccine research.”
We’ve seen extraordinary advances in vaccinology over the past couple of years, however the COVID-19 pandemic is not over. Focused R&D investments are still urgently needed so that we can strengthen our defenses against the virus and stay one step ahead of it.
No single organisation or country can meet this challenge, it demands a concerted and coordinated global effort. For our part, we are working to plug some of the remaining R&D gaps, as part of our $3.5bn pandemic preparedness plan:
Tackle troublesome variants of concern
Omicron and its infectious sub-lineages, BA.4 and BA.5, are a stark reminder of the need to develop variant-proof vaccines. CEPI has established four vaccine partnerships, using diverse technologies, to advance vaccines that are effective against COVID-19 variants. We are also working with partners like GISAID to monitor the emergence, evolution and spread of new mutations and test whether antibody serum, known to neutralise the original virus, remains effective against emerging variants. CEPI has also expanded its network of centralized laboratories to harmonise the assessment of COVID-19 vaccines against priority variants of concern.
Build our understanding on the vaccines and the virus
CEPI is supporting research to gain additional data on the performance of some of the already approved COVID-19 vaccine shots being rolled out around the world, in addition to some up-and-coming candidates. For example, we have funded research assessing the impact of ‘mix-and-match’ vaccines. We’ve also supported studies looking at the performance of COVID-19 shots in different populations, like in people with HIV as well as exploring whether reduced booster doses, known as fractional shots, provide the same immune responses as ‘full’ doses. This research will help guide national and global vaccination strategies, allowing us to use our resources for maximum public health impact and expand access to these lifesaving doses.
Prepare for the next coronavirus threat
Ultimately, the world must strive to go beyond the current method of ‘one bug, one drug’, towards a vaccine that would provide broad protection against SARS-CoV-2 variants and, in the longer term, an all-in-one coronavirus shot. CEPI’s $200m funding call is supporting the development of vaccines that can provide broad protection against SARS-CoV-2 and other Betacoronaviruses (the family of viruses to which SARS-CoV-1, SARS-CoV-2, and MERS-CoV all belong). Eleven awards have so far been announced, with more expected in the coming weeks.
If we want a roadmap out of this pandemic, one that is sustainable and equitable, we need continued and concerted commitment to vaccine R&D.
Dr. Melanie Saville is CEPI’s Executive Director of Vaccine Research and Development