CEPI partners with Shanghai Zerun Biotech to develop COVID-19 variant vaccine
July 21, 2021, Oslo, Norway — CEPI, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, today announced that it would partner with Shanghai Zerun Biotechnology Co., Ltd. (ZerunBio) and its parent company Walvax Biotechnology Co., Ltd.(Walvax), to advance development of both COVID-19 prototype and variant vaccine candidates. CEPI will provide US$13.1 million to support phase I clinical trial, process optimisation and scale-up of the prototype vaccine, and preclinical studies and phase I clinical trial of the variant vaccine.
This funding forms part of CEPI’s programme to develop “next-generation” COVID-19 vaccines that are differentiated from those already in advanced development and can be used against COVID-19 variants. CEPI’s portfolio of “next-generation” vaccines currently includes the GBP510 (developed by SK Bioscience) and an intranasal vaccine candidate (developed by the University of Hong Kong), which can be made globally accessible through COVAX.
The ZerunBio vaccine candidate
The spike protein in SARS-CoV-2 naturally occurs as a “trimer”—a molecule consisting of three identical parts. ZerunBio’s vaccine candidate uses a stabilised version of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein in trimer form, and includes several structural changes designed to improve its ability to stimulate immune responses against new SARS-CoV-2 variants, as well as significantly improve yield. The vaccine candidate will also include an adjuvant, CpG7909, to boost the immune response. Previous preclinical studies of this vaccine candidate, carried out by ZerunBio, have shown that it induces very high titres of neutralising antibodies and robust T-cell immune responses. Potential advantages of this candidate include scalability, thermostability, and the ability to cross protect against some of the new variants of SARS-CoV-2. The prototype COVID-19 vaccine based on this technology has recently entered Phase I/II clinical trials in Henan Province, China.
Enabling equitable access
The results of these CEPI-backed clinical trials will inform planning for efficacy trials and manufacturing scale-up, potentially enabling the annual production of hundreds of millions of doses. If the early stage clinical development is successful, CEPI will have the opportunity to grant additional investment in this vaccine candidate through to licensure in China and globally.
ZerunBio, Walvax, and CEPI are committed to enabling global equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines and, under the terms of the agreement, it is anticipated that vaccine output funded by CEPI’s investment will be procured and allocated through the COVAX Facility, which aims to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for all participating countries, at all levels of development.
To date, more than 134 million COVAX doses have already been delivered to 136 countries, with 1.9 billion doses forecast to be available for supply through COVAX by the end of 2021.
We are delighted to partner with ZerunBio on their innovative COVID-19 variant vaccine candidate. The emergence of vaccine-resistant COVID-19 variants threatens to undermine the progress the world has made over the past 18 months.
The Delta variant is already rendering our current batch of vaccines less able to prevent symptomatic infection. Thankfully, they are still effective at preventing severe disease and hospitalisation; but we cannot afford to be complacent. CEPI and ZerunBio’s partnership will strengthen our ability to control COVID-19.
Dr. Richard Hatchett
Chief Executive Officer, CEPI
We’re proud that we and our subsidiary ZerunBio have entered into the collaboration with CEPI with a shared mission to make a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine available, affordable and accessible to those who need it most.
The collaboration is in perfect line with our commitment of using better vaccines to make people's lives better. Walvax will leverage all resources to fully support ZerunBio’s COVID-19 vaccine development and deployment.
Mr. Yunchun Li
Chairman of Walvax Board
We are very honored to receive CEPI’s grant to advance our protein-based COVID-19 vaccine development with focus on variants.
The grant reflects the recognition of CEPI on our vaccine development platform and knowledge and dedication of our team, which have been working tirelessly with a firm determination to contribute to fighting this global pandemic. Partnering with CEPI, we can surely accelerate the development to achieve our goal of making a safe, effective and affordable COVID-19 vaccine to the world.
Mr. Jiankang Zhang
Vice President of Walvax, CEO & President of Zerun Bio
A version of this press release is also available in Chinese.