Oral vaccines and novel tech: CEPI announces grants for ‘variant-proof’ COVID-19 vaccine development

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT

Pic:getty/andrewbrookes
Pic:getty/andrewbrookes

Related tags: CEPI, Vaccines, COVID-19 vaccine

CEPI, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, has announced the first funding awards under a $200m program to advance development of vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 variants and other betacoronaviruses.

The two recipients, MigVax Ltd, Israel, and the University of Saskatchewan’s Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO), Canada, are seeking to establish preclinical proof of concept for novel vaccines suitable for use in low-and middle-income countries that are broadly protective against COVID-19 variants.

Funding of $4.3m will go to MigVax to support the initial development of a new orally administered subunit vaccine tablet.

Meanwhile, the University of Saskatchewan’s Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization will receive $5m towards the development of a new vaccine based on its novel protein subunit technology.

CEPI’s investments in MigVax Ltd and USask’s VIDO will fund antigen and candidate selection, vaccine formulation, manufacturing process development, and preclinical testing against SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern.

In the future, the vaccine platforms may also be applicable for developing vaccines which are protective against a broad range of betacoronaviruses (such as MERS and SARS), as well as other pathogens in the CEPI portfolio, including ‘Disease X’ - unknown pathogens with pandemic potential that have yet to emerge.

Migvax: oral booster vaccine

MigVax, an affiliate of The Migal Galilee Research Institute, is a startup developing MigVax-101, a novel oral subunit COVID-19 vaccine that has demonstrated effectivity in pre-clinical tests as an oral booster after priming injected vaccine.

Established in 2020 via a leading investment from OurCrowd, the crowdfunding venture investment platform, MigVax set out to modify a well-established coronavirus vaccine developed by Migal for the immunization of poultry, and to use its advanced methodologies to create its oral subunit vaccine for the immunization of humans.

MigVax-101 utilizes a chimeric protein to generate an immune response in the oral mucosa, which then generates consensual mucosal immunization. This is in addition to the generation of neutralizing antibodies, which confer a humoral immune response similar to injected vaccines. MigVax-101 epitopes were designed using computational chemistry of immunogenic epitopes in IBV, MERS, SARS-COV and SARS-COV-2, focusing on neutralizing antibodies and promoting an immune response.

VIDO: protein subunit tech

The University of Saskatchewan’s Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO) is one of Canada’s national science facilities. It has a 45-year history of vaccine development and commercialization—eight of its vaccines have been sold commercially, and six have been described as world-firsts. VIDO receives operating support from the Canada Foundation for Innovation Major Science Initiatives fund and the Government of Saskatchewan through Innovation Saskatchewan and the Ministry of Agriculture.

It is developing a new vaccine based on its novel protein subunit technology.

CEPI’s $200m program for betacoronavirus vaccine development was announced in March, focusing on proposals that support the research and development of novel immunogens for use in vaccines that can elicit durable, broadly protective immune responses. It forms part of a larger $3.5bn investment strategy against epidemic and pandemic infectious diseases.

Dr Richard Hatchett, CEO of CEPI, said: “CEPI’s partnerships with MigVax Ltd and the University of Saskatchewan’s Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization are kicking off our ambitious program to develop variant-proof COVID-19 vaccines, and ultimately vaccines that are broadly protective against other coronaviruses such as SARS and MERS.

“In countries with sufficient access to them, vaccines are now breaking the link between COVID-19 infection and severe illness or death, and enabling life to return to something approaching normality. But the threat of new variants emerging which can evade the protection of our current vaccines and set the global response back to square one continues to hang over us all. That’s why developing globally accessible vaccines which are broadly protective against COVID-19 variants is imperative for global health security: through these new partnerships we are taking the first steps towards achieving that goal.”

Related topics: Bio Developments, COVID-19