In June 2023 CEPI and the Institute for Drug Discovery at Leipzig University announced a partnership to speed up the development of vaccines against future threats. Using the Rosetta Macromolecular Modelling platform, the aim is to expand artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms for vaccine research. CEPI will provide up to $1.9 million to Leipzig University for analysis of the structures of viruses from 10 priority viral families, from which the next Disease X may emerge.
The focus for the research will initially be on paramyxoviruses and arenaviruses, which respectively include viruses such as Nipah and Lassa. From these investigations the team at the university will identify potential antigenic targets and develop virtual antigen designs that can be adapted for rapid vaccine development. CEPI previously partnered with University of California, Davis, in November 2022, to inform the prioritisation of viral families.
100 Days Mission: the library
CEPI’s established goal to compress pandemic vaccine development down to 100 days is known as the “100 Days Mission” and has been welcomed by international organisations. This would give the global community a greater chance against a pandemic-causing disease. Thus, CEPI has a $3.5 billion strategy for the next 5 years to “kickstart and coordinate” the necessary work.
Central to this preparation is the establishment of a “Vaccine Library”. Dr Richard Hatchett, CEPI’s CEO, emphasised that this will be a “huge task” that cannot be achieved in isolation.
“It will require countries that fund the development of medical countermeasures to coordinate their investments, and to share data and information when a viral outbreak with pandemic potential occurs.”
In this case, CEPI hopes to store antigen designs from Leipzig University in a Vaccine Library. In a pandemic scenario they could be “taken off the shelf” and gene sequences could be inserted into the relevant rapid-response platform to start vaccine production.
The development of a Vaccine Library would hone our preparedness for future threats, with CEPI suggesting that “fewer than 300 viruses are known to be able to infect people”, and only a “small fraction” of these having pandemic potential. The viruses that we know to be capable of human infection “all derive from about 25 viral families”.
Although the viruses with pandemic potential may seem limited, an outbreak of a future Disease X is “inevitable”. Attributing the increased likelihood of this threat to “globalisation, urbanisation, and climate change”, CEPI hopes that we will be better prepared than we were to meet COVID-19.
“The scientific advances forged in response to COVID-19 have equipped the world with the tools and concepts that would enable us to interrupt outbreaks in the future before they spiral out of control.”
Thanks to recent advances in AI technology, Dr Hatchett hopes that we can “quickly and effectively model potential viral vaccine targets”.
“Creating an accessible repository of these AI-generated antigen designs is a critical first step in creating such a vaccine library, the benefits of which would be game changing.”
Professor Dr Jens Meiler, Director of the Institute of Drug Discovery at Leipzig University, believes that AI “holds the promise for a rapid response to emerging viral diseases”. Professor Dr Meiler suggests that the Institute has “leading scientists” such as Dr Clara T. Schoeder to lead the effort on this programme.
“Methods that are developed in our institute will be applied to this challenging task. We are very confident that we will bring a unique expertise to the project that will design vaccines for the future.”
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