The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) will be providing up to $19.3 million to support development of a ‘variant-proof’ SARS-CoV-2 vaccine candidate to an international multidisciplinary consortium consisting of Covaxin maker Bharat Biotech, the University of Sydney, and ExcellGene SA, Switzerland.

The funding will support the consortium as it seeks to establish pre-clinical and clinical proof of concept for an adjuvanted sub unit vaccine designed to provide broad protection against all known SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern, as well as future variants of the virus which have not yet emerged, CEPI said on Tuesday.

The researchers will get the funding to conduct activities, including immunogen design, preclinical studies, manufacturing process development and a Phase 1 clinical trial.

“As repeated waves of COVID-19 infection remind us, we will be living alongside the virus for many years to come. The threat of a new variant emerging that might evade the protection of our current vaccines is real, so investing in R&D for variant-proof SARS-CoV-2 vaccines is a global health security imperative,” CEPI CEO Richard Hatchett said.

The partnership with Bharat Biotech, University of Sydney and ExcellGene will advance the development of a vaccine candidate to protect against future variants of COVID-19, potentially contributing to the long-term control of the virus, he said. Under the terms of the funding agreement, the consortium partners have committed to achieving equitable access to the outputs of this project, in line with CEPI’s Equitable Access Policy.

CEPI said the funding is the latest award under a $200 million programme to advance development of vaccines providing broad protection against SARS-Cov-2 variants and other betacoronaviruses.

Bharat Biotech CMD Krishna Ella said “while current generation of vaccines are safe and effective, against currently known variants, it is imperative we focus on innovation for multi-epitope vaccines, where a single vaccine can protect against all future variants”. The company’s expertise in product development and innovation, especially with novel adjuvants and platform technologies, will add to the partnership, he said.

The University of Sydney will provide a framework for pre-clinical assessment of vaccine candidates, together with access to Australia’s world-class early phase clinical trial community, said James Triccas of the Sydney Institute for Infectious Diseases at the University. ExcellGene’s technological platform for innovative protein designs was used in the past to identify and manufacture an antigen for an Ebola candidate vaccine. For the current COVID-19 project, it is using similar approaches to generate numerous antigen preparations derived from spike protein variants of SARS-CoV-2, focussing eventually on the most promising antigen for vaccine purposes.

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