In September 2022 CEPI announced the launch of its second phase of funding to “advance innovative Rift Valley fever vaccine programmes into clinical trials”. The funding, which includes $35 million in financial support from the EU Horizon Europe programme, reaches a total of up to $50 million. This will go towards accelerating “promising” vaccine candidates through Phase I and II trials in endemic areas.  

Rift Valley fever 

Rift Valley fever was first identified in the Rift Valley, Kenya, in 1931. It affects both animals and humans across Africa and parts of the Arabian Peninsula. It is particularly damaging in “vulnerable pastoral communities” where severe outbreaks can prompt large-scale livestock losses. The virus can cause mild to life-threatening disease in humans. Symptoms range from joint pain, headaches, and a fever, to a much more severe form resulting in haemorrhagic fever in 1-2% of patients. Further outcomes include “long-term debilitating health consequences” like blindness. Unfortunately, around half of all patients with the haemorrhagic form lose their lives.  

Climate cycles 

CEPI suggests that outbreaks typically occur in 4-15-year climatic cycles. These are linked to rainfall surges, which create more breeding sites for infected mosquitoes. Over the past 2 decades, the virus has reached further across Africa and new regions.  

“There is concern that further climate change and extreme weather events could create the necessary conditions to expand the number and size of regions affected.” 

Therefore, Rift Valley fever is a “prime candidate” for the One Health approach to disease control.  

Vaccine time 

Although we currently have veterinary vaccines, there are no vaccines approved for human use. With several pressing factors such as climate change and population movement, CEPI has “identified Rift Valley fever as one of its priority pathogens”. It is also a WHO pathogen with epidemic potential on the R&D Blueprint list.  

CEPI already supports two programmes with Wageningen University and Colorado State University to “advance” vaccine progress. These were part of phase one of the funding call, launched in 2019. However, the ultimate goal, as “part of its $3.5 billion pandemic preparedness plan” is to push vaccine candidates towards late-stage clinical trials or licensure.  

Dr Richard Hatchett, CEPI’s CEO, believes that COIVD-19 was an important wake up call to be “better prepared” for another threat, “whenever or wherever it may strike”.  

“Advancing globally accessible vaccines against Rift Valley fever for human use, is an essential step within the One Health framework.” 

He emphasised the need to consider “animal, human, and environmental factors”, and looks forward to advancements. The funding award is open worldwide from existing partners as well as those not currently working with CEPI. The projects are expected to take 3-4 years.  

To hear more from Wageningen University on progress towards a vaccine candidate, get your tickets to the World Vaccine Congress in Europe here.