UK vaccine to protect against future pandemics gets backing

Experts are working on a jab for known Covid variants and future ones, together with viruses that cause illnesses such as Sars and Mers.

08 March 2022

A UK-made vaccine to protect people against future pandemics has received global backing worth millions of pounds.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who opened a conference hosted by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) in London via video, hailed a new partnership between CEPI and DIOSynVax, a biotech spinout of the University of Cambridge.

The team at DIOSynVax is working on a vaccine that can tackle known Covid variants and future ones, together with viruses that cause illnesses such as Sars and Mers.

Mr Johnson said: “The UK is proud to have committed to a quarter of a billion pounds to support CEPI at the start of the pandemic, because it was precisely the partnership between CEPI, government, industry and academia which helped our vaccines to triumph over the virus.

“And now, we must come together to support CEPI’s global plan for the next generation of vaccine technologies, such as the new variant-proof vaccine being developed at Cambridge University to help protect us against the next Covid variant, or indeed, against the next pandemic.”

The Prime Minister said this was a “crucial part” of how countries can meet the “100-day mission… to make safe and effective diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines available within the first 100 days of a future pandemic threat being identified”.

He added: “After the tragedy of the last two years, it is incumbent on all of us to work harder than ever in preparing to meet future pandemic threats.

“That’s why we’re also leading international efforts to establish a pandemic treaty and an effective early warning system, or global pandemic radar, which can in turn inform the rapid development of new vaccines.”

The new funding will see CEPI invest up to around £32 million to support the development of a broadly protective vaccine using mRNA technology already adopted for the Moderna and Pfizer jabs.

DIOSynVax is working with the structure of proteins, computational biology and on boosting the immune system to work out how vaccines can be used to their best effect.

If the plan works, experts believe that vaccines could rapidly be developed against “Disease X” – unknown pathogens that have yet to emerge but which could cause pandemics.

Dr Richard Hatchett, chief executive of CEPI, said: “The UK Government and the country’s world-leading scientific institutions have been pivotal to the global response to Covid-19.

“From the development of the CEPI-supported Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine – which is used in more countries than any other – to the ground-breaking Recovery trial to evaluate life-saving treatments like dexamethasone, British science has played a leading role in protecting the world from Covid-19.

“I am excited to further strengthen CEPI’s strong ties to British science through this partnership with DIOSynVax.”

Professor Jonathan Heeney, chief executive of DIOSynVax, said: “Our approach is to be ahead of the next pandemic – to deliver custom designed, immune selected vaccine antigens – which is ideal to prevent diseases caused by complex viruses such as the large and diverse family of coronaviruses.

“If successful, it will result in a safe, affordable NextGen vaccine for widespread use.”

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