Vaccine coalition aims to avert epidemics

CEPI, a global vaccine research alliance launched in 2017, is headquartered in Oslo

vaccine coalition

Photo: CEPI
Scientist harvesting flu virus.

M. Michael Brady
Asker, Norway

We all know that the population of the world is growing, that humans are increasingly mobile, and that the ecology is evolving. Together these changes have amplified the threat of epidemics that threaten global health security. A report published in 2016 by the National Academy of Medicine, one of the three national academies of the United States, included an estimate that the global economic loss from potential pandemics could be more than $600 billion per year (further reading). The World Health Organization (WHO) now publishes and regularly updates a list of diseases urgently in need of research (Further reading).

The global need for an organization dedicated to preventing epidemics as well as pandemics, the ones prevalent over countries or parts of the world, was recognized after the devastating West African Ebola epidemic of 2013-2016. It killed more than 11,000 people and resulted in a social and economic burden of more than $53 billion. The world response to that crisis fell short. A vaccine that had been under development for more than 10 years was not deployed until a year after the epidemic began. It proved to be 100 percent effective, a finding that implied that much of the epidemic could have been prevented. It was then evident that a better system was needed to speed the development of vaccines.

A response to that need came at the World Economic Forum, held in January 2017 in Davos, Switzerland, with the founding there of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), together with the governments of Norway and of India, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Wellcome Trust. CEPI’s mandate calls for stimulating and accelerating the development of vaccines against emerging infectious diseases and enabling access to vaccines for people during outbreaks.

Today, CEPI has a comprehensive website at cepi.net, a headquarters in Oslo, and offices in London and Washington, D.C. Among the first of its initiatives was a study of the costs of vaccine development, to provide reliable figures for finding funding. The study was published in The Lancet, the weekly British medical journal that is among the world’s oldest and best known of its kind (Further reading). To date, CEPI has secured more than $750 million toward its $1 billion funding target.

As identified in The Lancet study, developing a new vaccine has long been an expensive, time-consuming process. So CEPI sponsors research into cheaper, faster ways of making vaccines in general. Two ongoing research forays into the unknown underline the magnitude of the challenges involved. The first foray entails research on Nipah, a little-known virus discovered 20 years ago that could lead to the next global pandemic. Nipah usually spreads from bats or pigs to humans and kills three-quarters of those infected. There’s no vaccine against it and no cure for the lethal disease it causes. On Feb. 25, CEPI awarded a contract worth up to $31 million to the University of Tokyo to develop a vaccine against the Nipah virus. The second foray is intriguingly named “Disease X,” in which the X stands for the unexpected and reflects a concern that the next major epidemic might be caused by something not now known. The only way to deal with such an unknown is to be able to rapidly develop a vaccine against it. So CEPI has dedicated nearly $20 million to research on speeding up vaccine development by two groups, one at the Imperial College in London and the other at the University of Queensland, Australia.

Further reading

• The Neglected Dimension of Global Security: A Framework to Counter Infectious Disease Crises, Report released Jan. 13, 2016, National Academy of Medicine: www8.nationalacademies.org/onpinews/newsitem.aspx?RecordID=21891

• 2018 Annual review of diseases prioritized under the Research and Development Blueprint, Geneva, Switzerland, Feb. 6-7, 2018, World Health Organization (WHO): www.who.int/blueprint/priority-diseases/en

• “Estimating the cost of vaccine development against epidemic infections diseases: a cost minimisation study” by Dimitrious Gouglas et.al., The Lancet Global Health, Oct. 17, 2018: dx.doi.org/10.1016/S2214-109X(18)30346-2

This article originally appeared in the March 22, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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