Vaccines that remain stable at 40°C would not need complex cold-storage requirements and thus could improve reach in remote areas; while wastage from spoiled vaccines would be vastly reduced.
The Call for Proposals covers vaccine tech against known epidemic and pandemic diseases – including like Ebola, Lassa fever, MERS, as well as COVID-19 – as well as future threats, known as Disease X.
Vaccines can lose their effectiveness when exposed to temperatures that are either too hot or too cold. Consequently, costly and complex cold-chains—involving fridges, freezers, cool boxes for shipping, and other equipment—are usually needed for shipment, storage and delivery.
Cold chain requirements are one of the key reasons for vaccines being wasted globally, as vaccines must be discarded if they have potentially been exposed to heat or freezing.
The ability for vaccines to withstand heat exposure has consequently been identified as the most desired characteristic for vaccines used in outreach and campaign settings by experienced immunization staff, notes CEPI. And thermostable vaccines are also identified as a preferred vaccine characteristic by the World Health Organization (WHO).
CEPI’s ambitions are twofold: firstly to support vaccine platforms that currently require freezing – such as RNA COVID-19 vaccines - to develop tech that works at standard cold chain temperatures of refrigeration at 2-8°C.
Secondly, it will support innovations which improve thermostability for any vaccine type to a preferred target of 40°C: ideally allowing the last stage of the supply chain to occur without cold chain equipment.
Example innovations that CEPI may look to fund include temperature-stable vaccine nasal sprays, microarray patches, or orally administered vaccines.
However, heat-stable tech must not come at the expense of other key vaccine criteria: such as costs, capacity, and ease of use.
COVID-19 vaccine innovation must be followed by innovation in temperature-stable tech, says CEPI
CEPI’s acting director of Vaccine Manufacturing and Supply Chain, Ingrid Kromann, said: “In as little as two years, science has revolutionised the way we are responding to this dreadful virus, through the development of numerous safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines. Yet, while many high-income nations have easy access to these life-saving tools, low-resource and remote settings are limited by complex cold-chain requirements, contributing to the global vaccine inequity we see today.
“We must now use this time to innovate. In support of CEPI’s equitable access mission, we’re really looking to see a step change in the way that some of these vaccines can be stored and delivered – to provide hope and protection to communities worldwide, while also minimising potential wastage. We encourage vaccine manufacturers and scientific institutions, including technology companies with creative and forward-thinking ideas around vaccine thermostability, to apply to this Call so that we, together, can make a difference in current as well as future global vaccination campaigns.”
Up to $17.5m will be made available to support three to five projects this year. Interested groups can apply individually or, for example if an independent tech institution, pair together with a vaccine manufacturer and apply as a consortium.
A full list of the epidemic and pandemic pathogens applicants could target is available online.
The new Call is now open for Expressions of Interest up until 31 December 2022. Successful applications may then be invited to submit full proposals for funding.
This vaccine stability work is part of CEPI’s goal, as part of its $3.5bn pandemic preparedness plan, launched in March 2021, to harness innovative technologies to improve the speed, scale and access of vaccine development and manufacturing in response to epidemics and pandemics.