In February 2023 CEPI announced a partnership with 20Med, a “leader in non-viral delivery of genetic vaccines” to advance the development of 20Med’s bioresponsive polymeric nanoparticle technology. This is hoped to be a step towards ending the need for frozen storage for mRNA vaccines. CEPI stated that it is providing up to $850,000 to develop a proof-of-concept for the nanoparticle platform. This funding will also contribute to preclinical studies to assess if the technology can deliver mRNA vaccines better than the conventional technology: lipid nanoparticles.  

Life-saving technology brings challenges 

CEPI acknowledges the “critical” role of mRNA vaccine technology in the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic but refers to the “need to store them at very low temperatures” as one of the “major challenges” in implementing this response. In particular, delivery in “poorer countries” where temperature control presents a greater obstacle, identified a need for creative solutions.  

The importance of frozen storage is due to the “fragility of the mRNA molecules”, which are conventionally encased in lipid nanoparticles. These must be stored frozen and used shortly after extraction from the freezer.  

What does 20Med offer? 

20Med aims to overcome the storage challenges by “protecting the mRNA against degradation” through bioresponsive polymeric nanoparticle technology. The mRNA is bound to large-chain molecules, or polymers, to protect the mRNA from “heat or other stresses”. When the polymer-encased mRNA reaches the target cells, the polymers are “selectively degraded”, giving way to the mRNA.  

Access concerns 

CEPI reports that both organisations are “committed to enabling global equitable access to the vaccines they develop”. Thus, under the terms of the agreement, 20Med is committed to promoting equitable access for the project products, including supply for low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), sufficient vaccine volumes to meet health needs with affordable pricing, and the potential for technology transfer to LMIC manufacturers.  

Anand Ekambaram, Executive Director of Manufacturing and Supply Chain, suggests that “equitable access underpins CEPI’s mission”.  

“That’s why we’re investing in new vaccine technologies that can better withstand heat exposure and can be more easily stored and delivered to populations who may be living in regions where cold-chain networks are not as well developed.”  

Dr Michiel Lodder, CEO of 20Med, described “thermostability” as one of the “potential benefits” of their delivery platform.  

“We are looking forward to collaborating with CEPI in bringing this particular feature of our platform to bear in an area of significant medical need and help overcome the limitations of LNP-based delivery.”  

Dr Lodder hopes the support from CEPI will “strengthen our ability to advance our vaccine platform towards clinical application in infectious diseases”.  

Previous efforts by CEPI to advance storage technology include investment in Vaxxas’ pipeline. To hear more about technological advancements at the World Vaccine Congress in Washington get your tickets today.