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Scientists to launch 100-day vaccine strategy to combat future pandemics

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Employees pack boxes containing vials of Covishield, a version of the AstraZeneca vaccine, at the Serum Institute of India in Pune - Rafiq Maqbool/AP Photo
Employees pack boxes containing vials of Covishield, a version of the AstraZeneca vaccine, at the Serum Institute of India in Pune - Rafiq Maqbool/AP Photo

UK researchers on Monday are set to launch a blueprint for a “100-day” vaccine in a bid to stop the next pandemic in its tracks.

The plan will see scientists create an estimated 100 prototype vaccines for the 25 viral families known to infect humans. Then, when the next virus with pandemic potential emerges, scientists say they will be able to build on the prototype to develop a vaccine ready for use within 100 days.

The vaccine “moonshot” is being spearheaded by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (Cepi), an organisation that helped fund the Oxford-AstraZeneca and Moderna Covid jabs.

The 100-day vaccine plan has already won the backing of both the UK Government and the G7 group of the world’s most industrialised nations.

Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government’s chief scientific officer, said: “Science has been incredibly important during this pandemic, and has led to vaccines appearing within a year of the virus itself being identified.”

He said Cepi would be a crucial leader in implementing the 100-day vaccine plan “from vaccines and therapeutics, to try to make sure that, for any future pandemic, we can get to a state where we have vaccines ready for production at scale within 100 days”.

The Covid pandemic saw vaccine development timelines shrink from an average of about 10 years to 326 days – a feat that inspired the 100-day mission.

Dr Richard Hatchett, chief executive of Cepi, said delivering a vaccine in 100 days would give the world a chance to “extinguish the existential threat of a future virus”.

“The goal, while ambitious, is technologically within reach. To some, the goal sounds impossibly far-fetched – until you break the problems that need to be solved down into manageable chunks and think each one through.”

One of the key parts of the plan is to produce a library of prototype vaccines against pathogens from “critical viral families”.

Cepi will initially target 10 of these families. They are likely to include paramyxovirus: a family that contains measles and mumps, but also Nipah, an emerging virus in south east Asia that is spread via respiratory droplets and has up to a 75 per cent fatality rate.

Another key family will be orthomyxovirus, which contains the influenza viruses. Although there is an existing vaccine, it only works against seasonal flu, not pandemic flu.

Cepi says the development of the AstraZeneca and mRNA Covid vaccines has been proof of concept of the 100-day approach. Researchers were already working on the technology when Sar-CoV-2 was identified and could “plug in” the genetic code to develop their jabs.

Little capacity in Africa

Cepi is calling for an initial £3.5 billion for the plan, although the eventual cost is likely to far exceed that. A Lancet paper in 2018 estimated that it would cost between $84 million to $1 billion to take a single vaccine against an epidemic disease from initial concept to phase two trials.

However, with the pandemic estimated to have cost the world economy $28 trillion, even a $100bn plan would prove good value for money.

Another key part of the plan is to ensure there is enough manufacturing capacity to make a new vaccine – the UK’s Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre, a facility near Oxford intended to make the nation self-sufficient in vaccines, is still not open nearly two years into the pandemic.

And there is little capacity in Africa – a gap that has meant it has been left behind in the global vaccines arms race.

Patrick Tippoo, executive director of the African Vaccine Manufacturing Initiative, said Africa had capacity to manufacture about 500 million doses a year but much of that is “fill and finish” – the final part of the process.

“What we need in Africa is the end-to-end manufacturing capability. We need to break the cycle of dependency on a partner to supply you with the drug substance because that becomes a bottleneck,” he said.

James Anderson, executive director at International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations, one of the partners in the 100-day project, said: “Early detection and immediate and unhindered sharing of pathogens is essential to kick off the work. Science and the innovative ecosystem is a powerful tool to research, develop and manufacture solutions to prevent and tackle pandemics. In this context, we agree with Cepi that working on candidate libraries in advance of the next pandemic will be crucial to speed up the vaccine development process.”

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