Plan to stop future epidemics by developing new vaccines for a safer world

A global coalition to create new vaccines for emerging infectious diseases, designed to help give the world an insurance policy against epidemics, was launched at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland yesterday.

With an initial investment of US$460m from the governments of Germany, Japan and Norway, plus the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust, CEPI – the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations hopes to shorten the time it takes to develop new vaccines to protect against viruses that emerge suddenly as public health threats, as Zika did recently developing safe and effective vaccines against known infectious disease threats that could be deployed rapidly to contain outbreaks, before they become global health emergencies.

CEPI will initially target the MERS-CoV, Lassa and Nipah viruses, which have known potential to cause serious epidemics. It aims to develop two promising vaccine candidates against each of these diseases before any epidemic, so these are available without delay if and when an outbreak begins. CEPI will also scope out potential support for vaccines against multiple strains of the Ebola and Marburg viruses, and Zika.

To achieve all these goals, CEPI will need significant additional investment, and the initial CEPI funders are calling today for other governments and philanthropic organisations to join them in helping to protect the world against future epidemics. CEPI is looking to complete its fundraising by the end of 2017.

Erna Solberg, Prime Minister of Norway, said: “Just over a year ago 193 states adopted the Sustainable Development Goals – the roadmap for the future we want. Epidemics threaten that future. They can ruin societies on a scale only matched by wars and natural disasters. They respect no borders and don’t care if we are rich or poor. Protecting the vulnerable is protecting ourselves. This is why we all must work together to be better prepared – and why my Government is fully committed to ensure that CEPI achieves its mission.”

Bill Gates, Co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said: “Ebola and Zika showed that the world is tragically unprepared to detect local outbreaks and respond quickly enough to prevent them from becoming global pandemics. Without investments in research and development, we will remain unequipped when we face the next threat.

Dr Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust, said: “We know from Ebola, Zika and SARS that epidemics are among the significant threats we face to life, health and prosperity. Vaccines can protect us, but we’ve done too little to develop them as an insurance policy. CEPI is our chance to learn the lessons of recent tragedies, and outsmart epidemics with new vaccine defences. If others join us in supporting CEPI, we can realise our goal of creating a safer world.”

CEPI is a direct response to calls from four independent expert reports into the Ebola epidemic for a new system for stimulating the development of vaccines against epidemic threats.

CEPI is an innovative partnership between public, private, philanthropic and civil organisations. It was founded by the governments of India and Norway, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Wellcome and the World Economic Forum. Other partners include multinational pharmaceutical corporations, the World Health Organization and NGOs as well as several leading pharmaceutical companies with strength in vaccines – GSK, Merck, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, Sanofi and Takeda, plus the Biotechnology Innovation Organisation.