The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the University of Oxford today announced the launch of a new project to initiate early development of prototype vaccines against the Junín virus.
Junín virus has been selected as an exemplar of the Arenavirus family which is responsible for multiple deadly haemorrhagic fevers with epidemic and pandemic potential.
Led by PSI and Oxford Vaccine Group Investigator Professor Teresa Lambe, the data and materials generated by this project could give the world a head start in rapidly developing safe and effective vaccines against Arenaviruses within 100 days of their identification, potentially stopping a future pandemic in its tracks.
CEPI will provide up to $25 million to Oxford for preclinical and Phase I clinical development of a vaccine against the Junín virus using Oxford’s ChAdOx platform and other rapid response platforms. Endemic to the Pampas of South America, Junín virus can cause Argentine Haemmorhagic Fever, with symptoms including muscular pain, dizziness, rashes, and a 15-30% case fatality.
Junín virus: an exemplar Arenavirus
University of Oxford researchers were able to develop a COVID-19 vaccine with unprecedented speed, in part because of prior work to develop a vaccine against MERS, a closely related virus from the coronavirus family.
CEPI and Oxford now aim to replicate this approach for the Arenavirus family by generating crucial knowledge about vaccine design and biological mechanisms linked to protection against the Junín virus, which could significantly accelerate vaccine development against other viruses within the Arenavirus family.
The viral family comprises New World Arenaviruses, a distinctive group within the Arenavirus family that includes viruses like Junín, as well as Old World Arenaviruses like Lassa fever, one of CEPI’s priority pathogens which are listed on the WHO R&D Blueprint as needing urgent R&D action.
Professor Teresa Lambe, lead of the project and Calleva Head of Vaccine Immunology and a Professor of Vaccinology & Immunology based in the Oxford Vaccine Group (OVG), and investigator at the Pandemic Sciences Institute at the University of Oxford, said: “In this new project, scientists here in Oxford and in Latin America will develop and test candidate vaccines for Junín virus using both viral vector and mRNA technology.
“Our work will not only inform best-in-class vaccines against the Junín virus, but it will also support vaccine development for the broader group of Arenaviruses.It is this wider impact that could crucially help the world develop and manufacture safe, affordable vaccines at speed, preparing us for future pandemic threats.”
Dr Richard Hatchett, CEO of CEPI said: “COVID-19 was a wake-up call to the world, highlighting the critical need to be better prepared for future viral threats.
"This new project will harness the University of Oxford’s extensive vaccinology experience and its innovative ChAdOx vaccine technology – one of only a handful of vaccine platforms proven to work at speed, scale, and low cost – to expand the world’s scientific knowledge on Arenavirus vaccines.
"The project will generate vital resources for the proposed Global Vaccine Library helping accelerate efforts to reduce vaccine development timelines to 100 days when faced with future threats."
The prototype vaccines, data, and knowledge about Arenaviruses that are generated through this research could make a vital contribution to the proposed Global Vaccine Library: a global repository of vaccine resources, capabilities, and data that can be pulled ‘off the shelf’ and quickly adapted in response to a future outbreak.
As part of the project, the University of Oxford’s team of scientists (Professors Teresa Lambe, Sandy Douglas, Thomas Bowden and Sue Ann Costa Clemens) will also explore improving vaccine manufacturing processes to accelerate the speed and increase the scale of production of vaccines on their ChAdOx platform.
The aim is to provide ‘proof-of-concept’ that the technology could dramatically accelerate vaccine development timelines from sequence to manufacturing of clinical trial materials, in alignment with the 100 Days Mission for fast vaccine rollout during an outbreak.
Enabling equitable access
CEPI and the University of Oxford are committed to enabling equitable access to the outputs of this partnership in line with CEPI’s Equitable Access Policy. CEPI and the University of Oxford will also assess potential technology transfer to manufacturers in the Global South should the vaccine be successful in clinical trials.
Clinical trial data and results generated as part of this project will be published for open access for the benefit of the global scientific community.
This is the first project to be initiated under a strategic partnership between CEPI and the University of Oxford announced in August 2023.