New partnership to fast track vaccine

A partnership between the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Barinthus Biotherapeutics and the University of Oxford, the scientists behind one of the life-saving COVID-19 vaccines, aims to fast-track the development of a potential vaccine known as VTP-500 for the prevention of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, the often fatal disease caused by the MERS coronavirus.

The project will see CEPI, Barinthus Bio, an Oxfordshire-based clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company, and the University of Oxford together take a MERS vaccine from early development through Phase II clinical trials and, if the Phase II clinical trials are successful, on into the development of an investigational ready reserve of 100,000 doses to be rapidly deployed in a clinical trial setting in the event of a substantial outbreak.

“Coronaviruses are one of the most urgent infectious disease threats the world faces, so it’s vital that we get on with developing medical defences against this particularly deadly one – MERS,” said Dr Richard Hatchett, CEPI’s CEO. “With this project, we will both advance scientific understanding of the coronavirus family as a whole, and at the same time bolster humanity’s ability to respond to an ever-present epidemic threat.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic showed us the critical importance of vaccines in saving millions of lives around the world,” said Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert, Pandemic Sciences Institute, University of Oxford. “We had a head-start in our development of the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, thanks to the many years already spent researching a vaccine for another coronavirus, MERS. This new partnership will help ensure the world is better prepared with vaccines for future outbreaks.”

“We are thrilled to be working with the University of Oxford and CEPI on the development of this important vaccine candidate,” said Bill Enright, Barinthus Bio’s CEO “There is an active need for a MERS vaccine for at-risk populations and travellers in the Middle East. As we observed during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is critical to ensure we have the necessary countermeasures in place to protect people around the world from deadly pathogens such as MERS which have the potential for future outbreaks.”

The three-way partnership, which awards up to $34.8 million to Barinthus Bio in addition to funds previously committed to the University of Oxford, builds on the early-stage development of VTP-500, which is based on the same viral vector platform technology as the licensed Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, Vaxzevria. VTP-500 has already completed Phase I clinical trials in Britain and Saudi Arabia, and the University of Oxford is now conducting a CEPI-funded extension to the Phase I trial in the UK to assess vaccination of older adults, the age group most in need of this vaccine. The VTP-500 programme was awarded PRIME designation earlier in December by the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

MERS is a severe respiratory infection caused by MERS-CoV, a coronavirus that was first identified in 2012 in Saudi Arabia. It has caused more than 2,600 human infections in at least 27 countries since it first emerged, and it has a case-fatality rate of more than 35 percent. There are as yet no licensed vaccines or treatments for MERS.


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