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The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) last week announced US$2 million in funding for American pharmaceutical company, Tiba Biotech, which has developed promising RNA technology that could make the development of mRNA vaccines targeting Disease X (a pathogen with pandemic-potential that has yet to be identified) cheaper, more effective, and more tolerable. While mRNA vaccines for COVID-19 have successfully been administered globally, limitations including side effects and ultra-cool cold chain storage requirements hinder their effectiveness and accessibility. This first round of funding will support the development of a vaccine candidate for Japanese encephalitis. If that candidate is successful, this technology could lead to the development of a variety of Disease X vaccine candidates to be included in CEPI’s library of vaccines as part of the 100-day plan to speed up vaccine development and rollout after the emergence of a disease threat.
Last week, the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) Africa Region declared the end of the recent outbreak of Sudan ebolavirus. WHO is expected to convene Ebola experts to discuss how to move forward with the plans to trial three experimental vaccine candidates that target the Sudan strain responsible for the recent outbreak. The trial was aimed at ensuring both study groups received protection from a vaccine (one group after a time delay) and generating data about the potential of these candidates, which is much needed, as there are no approved vaccines targeting Sudan ebolavirus. Finding a new strategy for testing the vaccine candidates will be challenging because the Sudan ebolavirus is rare and with limited cases, and therefore it would be difficult to obtain enough data to prove safety and efficacy, especially for all three candidates. One potential path for continuing the trial is testing efficacy on non-human primates and then more extensive testing of safety and immune response in healthy human volunteers.
Last week, the Respiratory Virus & Microbiome Initiative was launched, in collaboration with the UK Health Security Agency and funded by the Wellcome Sanger Institute. The initiative will track the evolution of a variety of respiratory pathogens including SARS-CoV-to improve viral monitoring in the UK and enhance the country’s ability to quickly identify the emergence of new viruses. There is additional hope that this work will ultimately generate much-needed knowledge about the viral families behind common diseases, as well as spur the development of vaccines and therapeutics for these viruses. This initiative comes after the COVID-19 pandemic led to viral sequencing efforts around the world that helped guide responses and detect new variants and led to the development of diagnostics and vaccines.