Last week a global coalition of governments, foundations and pharmaceutical industries used the World Economic Forum in Davos as a platform to announce the creation of an international partnership to fight global epidemics.
The coalition has already raised $460 million of a targeted $1 billion, which will be used to improve the global reaction to major health risks, such as the recent Zika and Ebola epidemics. The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) hopes to speed up the process of development for new vaccines in an interconnected world where local diseases can quickly become global epidemics.
Contributions include government aid from Germany, Japan and Norway, and funds from NGOs such as the Wellcome Trust and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Médecins Sans Frontières and the World Health Organization are partners of the initiative, as are six major pharmaceutical companies.
MERS, Nipah and Lassa are first targets
CEPI will initially focus on developing vaccines for MERS, Nipah and Lassa fever. As illnesses with vaccines currently in development and the potential to become global epidemics, they were highlighted as frontrunners for further investment.
In addition to the development of specific vaccines, CEPI will invest in RNA technology, which can provoke a reaction from the immune system after the virus’ genes are injected. This technology is considered the best way to create a customizable vaccine that can be activated against any kind of illness.
Goal of two vaccines per disease
Dr Farrar of the Wellcome Trust has said that CEPI will endeavor to develop at least two types of vaccines for each disease. Before a vaccine can be used in an outbreak, however, it must be shown to be safe and effective for humans.
A few legal issues still need to be addressed, such as ownership of the patents developed with coalition funding and who has legal responsibility in case of harm to volunteers during vaccine trials. Once these issues have been resolved, the coalition can inaugurate a new era of global collaboration to fight infectious diseases. Meanwhile, the coalition has started a call for proposals for vaccine development for selected diseases.
The ultimate goal of the new partnership is to complete development before an outbreak, and to create affordable vaccines that can be readily available to all those in need.
Image: James Gathany