Established in October, the network has been using the same methods and materials – such as reagents – to test COVID-19 vaccines. It will now expand to cover the evaluation of other infectious disease vaccines in preclinical and clinical trials.
These will cover vaccine candidates being developed against CEPI’s priority diseases: namely Chikungunya, Lassa fever, MERS, Nipah, Rift Valley fever, and Disease X.
During the typical vaccine evaluation process, the immune response of each vaccine candidate under development is assessed using different tools and measurements at individual testing sites, allowing for variability in results.
For example, there may be potential variation in the way in which different type of immune biomarkers, like antibodies and T-cells, are measured.
Technical differences in how and where vaccine clinical trial samples are collected, transported, and stored can also occur, impacting the quality and usefulness of the data produced and making comparisons between measurements difficult.
By following the same protocols and using the same biological reagents, laboratories within CEPI’s centralised network can instead ensure uniformity in the assessment of different vaccine candidates.
Standardized testing to aid 100-day vaccine development goal
Last year, CEPI set out a $3.5bn plan to ‘dramatically reduce or even eliminate the future risk of pandemics’: aiming to reduce vaccine development into a 100-day timeframe.
Providing the tools to harmonise the assessment of epidemic and pandemic vaccines will allow both researchers and regulators to evaluate the most promising vaccine candidates quickly and accurately, says CEPI, helping move towards the 100-day goal.
The global COVID-19 testing network launched with five laboratories: Nexelis (Canada) and Public Health England (PHE, UK), VisMederi Srl (Italy), Viroclinics-DDL (The Netherlands), icddr,b (formerly International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh), and Translational Health Sciences and Technological Institute (THSTI, India). To date, more that 30 COVID-19 vaccine developers have used the service with more than 15,000 clinical trial samples submitted for testing.
The network has already evolved to assess and harmonise data from vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 variants.
Creating an expanded network, however, will require more laboratories; and in particular laboratories in South America, Africa and Oceania (regions where the network does not currently have laboratories). CEPI has opened a Call for Proposals to identify suitable laboratories worldwide.
Laboratories interested in applying to join CEPI’s network can find out more information and submit their applications here. The deadline for applications is 18 February 2022. CEPI is also set to run webinars in upcoming weeks to guide interested laboratories through the application process and to respond to any questions.
Types of studies that pre-approved providers might be asked to perform could include, but are not limited to, binding antibody assays (for example ELISA), neutralizing antibody assays (with Wild type virus and or (BSL-3 and 4) and pseudo-virus (BSL-2)), T-cells assays (for example ELISPOT and Flow cytometry) and other immunological assays. Pre-approved providers might be asked to develop and tech transfer assays and produce key reagents (e.g.: coating antigens for ELISA, pseudo particles, peptides for ELISPOT, etc…) for all the laboratories of the network.
Dr Melanie Saville, director of vaccine R&D at CEPI, said: “We’ve already seen multiple deadly disease outbreaks affecting populations over the twenty-first century - and we know that the next pandemic is not a case of ‘if’ but ‘when’.
“So, while we continue to tackle COVID-19, we must also make sure that vaccine developers working on other emerging infectious diseases with epidemic or pandemic potential have the same level of scientific research and resource available to them to best prepare for future outbreaks.
“This means building on what we’ve learned and created during this current crisis and extending our centralised labs network to also test against other known threats - and a potential future ‘Disease X’. Through this expansion, we can provide the resources to uniformly assess multiple vaccines under evaluation which could, in turn, speed up the development of future vaccine candidates.”