CEPI and University of Oxford launch new project to initiate vaccine development against Junín virus

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The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the University of Oxford today announced the launch of a new project to initiate early development of prototype vaccines against the Junín virus, selected as an exemplar of the Arenavirus family which is responsible for multiple deadly hemorrhagic fevers with epidemic and pandemic potential. The data and materials generated by this project could give the world a head start in rapidly developing safe and effective vaccines against Arenaviruses within 100 days of their identification, potentially stopping a future pandemic in its tracks.

CEPI will provide up to $25 million to Oxford for preclinical and Phase I clinical development of a vaccine against the Junín virus using Oxford's ChAdOx platform - the basis for Oxford's COVID-19 vaccine, which saved 6.3 million lives in the first year of the global vaccine rollout - and other rapid response platforms. Endemic to the Pampas of South America, a large region of over a million square kilometers which includes Buenos Aires, Junín virus can cause Argentine Haemmorhagic Fever, with symptoms including muscular pain, dizziness, rashes, and a 15-30% case fatality.

Junín virus: an exemplar Arenavirus

The Oxford team was able to develop a COVID-19 vaccine with unprecedented speed, in part because of their prior work to develop a vaccine against MERS which is a closely related virus from the coronavirus family. This gave the team a significant head start when COVID-19 emerged because they had solved many of the critical vaccinology problems for coronaviruses in advance.

CEPI and Oxford now aim to replicate this approach for the Arenavirus family by generating crucial knowledge about vaccine design and biological mechanisms linked to protection against the Junín virus which could significantly accelerate vaccine development against other viruses within the Arenavirus family. The viral family comprises New World Arenaviruses, a distinctive group within the Arenavirus family that includes viruses like Junín, as well as Old World Arenaviruses like Lassa fever, one of CEPI's priority pathogens which are listed on the WHO R&D Blueprint as needing urgent R&D action.

COVID-19 was a wake-up call to the world, highlighting the critical need to be better prepared for future viral threats. This new project will harness the University of Oxford's extensive vaccinology experience and its innovative ChAdOx vaccine technology - one of only a handful of vaccine platforms proven to work at speed, scale, and low cost - to expand the world's scientific knowledge on Arenavirus vaccines. The project will generate vital resources for the proposed Global Vaccine Library helping accelerate efforts to reduce vaccine development timelines to 100 days when faced with future threats."

Dr Richard Hatchett, CEO of CEPI

Professor Teresa Lambe, lead of the project and Calleva Head of Vaccine Immunology and a Professor of Vaccinology & Immunology based in the Oxford Vaccine Group (OVG), and investigator at the Pandemic Sciences Institute at the University of Oxford, said: "In this new project, scientists here in Oxford and in Latin America will develop and test candidate vaccines for Junín virus using both viral vector and mRNA technology.

"Our work will not only inform best-in-class vaccines against the Junín virus, but it will also support vaccine development for the broader group of Arenaviruses. It is this wider impact that could crucially help the world develop and manufacture safe, affordable vaccines at speed, preparing us for future pandemic threats."

The prototype vaccines, data, and knowledge about Arenaviruses that are generated through this research could make a vital contribution to the proposed Global Vaccine Library: a global repository of vaccine resources, capabilities, and data which can be pulled 'off the shelf' and quickly adapted in response to a future outbreak, accelerating the development of life-saving vaccines.

As part of the project, the University of Oxford's team of scientists (Professors Teresa Lambe, Sandy Douglas, Thomas Brown, and Sue Ann Costa Clemens) will also explore improving vaccine manufacturing processes to accelerate the speed and increase the scale of production of vaccines on their ChAdOx platform. The aim is to provide 'proof-of-concept' that the technology could dramatically accelerate vaccine development timelines from sequence to manufacturing of clinical trial materials, in alignment with the timeframes set out to achieve the 100 Days Mission for fast vaccine rollout during an outbreak.

Enabling equitable access

CEPI and the University of Oxford are committed to enabling equitable access to the outputs of this partnership in line with CEPI's Equitable Access Policy so that vaccines are first available, at affordable prices, to populations when and where they are needed to end an outbreak or curtail an epidemic or pandemic, regardless of ability to pay. CEPI and the University of Oxford will also assess potential technology transfer to manufacturers in the Global South should the vaccine be successful in clinical trials.

Clinical trial data and results generated as part of this project will be published for open access for the benefit of the global scientific community.

This is the first project to be initiated under a strategic partnership between CEPI and the University of Oxford announced in August 2023. Through the partnership, CEPI will provide a total of up to US$80 million to support multiple projects in the design, manufacture, and vaccination strategies for globally accessible vaccines against known and unknown outbreak pathogens (Disease X) in pursuit of the 100 Days Mission. Embraced by the G7 and G20, the global goal aims to accelerate vaccine development timelines to a third of the time taken to develop COVID-19 vaccines. Additional projects which fall under the remit of the strategic partnership will be announced in the coming months.

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