In November 2022 CEPI announced an investment of U$5.7 million towards the development of a second-generation molecular clamp vaccine platform at the University of Queensland (UQ). This platform will be aimed at “combatting the next Disease X”. The funds will contribute to the testing of “promising technology” for use in a global response to future disease outbreaks.  

Clamp 2 

Molecular clamp technology works by “locking viral proteins” into a shape that facilitates “optimal immune response”. It requires the sequence of the viral protein, determined from its genome, which is then “coupled with an optimised ‘clamp’ sequence”. CEPI describes how the “resulting synthetic antigen” can be purified and “rapidly manufactured” into a vaccine.  

The team at UQ has spent months re-engineering a previous molecular clamp technology and demonstrating its safety in lab tests.  

Previous clamp attempts 

In January 2019 CEPI entered a partnering agreement with UQ to develop a molecular clamp vaccine platform. With the arrival of SARS-CoV-2 in late 2019, CEPI and UQ began work on vaccines against the virus. In July 2020 the team had started clinical testing of a vaccine candidate. Unfortunately, scientists at UQ discovered that a “constituent of the vaccine” also resulted in “diagnostic interference with some HIV tests”. Thus, further development was halted.  

“Nevertheless, CEPI believed that the concepts underlying UQ’s molecular clamp technology showed great promise.”  

Vaccine equity through technology 

Committed to equitable access, CEPI has ensured that UQ agrees to make vaccine candidates available in outbreak situations to “populations at risk”. Jane Halton, Chair of CEPI, described the important role that the Australian Government and R&D sector are playing in “bolstering future pandemic preparedness”. Dr Melanie Saville, Executive Director of Vaccine R&D at CEPI identified the “true grit” and the “power of the scientific process” at play in this research.  

“This second-generation molecular clamp vaccine technology could provide the world with an invaluable tool to rapidly respond to future pandemic threats.”  

She hopes to “mitigate the devastating” effects of future pandemics with this collaboration. The leader of UQ’s Rapid Response Vaccine Pipeline is Associate Professor Keith Chappell. He displayed gratitude for the “continuing support from CEPI” as well as the governments and “philanthropic partners”.  

“Pre-clinical testing had shown the ‘Clamp2’ platform was meeting all expectations, producing stabilised antigens, and inducing strong neutralising immune responses”.  

To hear more about global preparations for Disease X at the World Vaccine Congress in Washington in April, get your tickets now.