Outbreak alliance hands Johnson & Johnson, Oxford $18.7M for MERS work and more

CEPI, the global outbreak preparedness group, has been busy since it launched last year, raising more than $600 million and handing out grants to back research into neglected diseases. In its latest move, the coalition awarded $18.7 million to Johnson & Johnson and Oxford University’s Jenner Institute to support MERS, Lassa and Nipah vaccines.

Oxford and Janssen nabbed $14.6 million to support phase 1 testing and manufacturing for later phases of work on a Middle East Respiratory Syndrome candidate. If the adenovirus-vectored vaccine succeeds in a phase 1 test underway in the U.K., CEPI could award more money, and the partners could build an investigational stockpile to use in an outbreak.

The deal also includes $4.1 million in funding for preclinical work on Lassa and Nipah vaccines.

CEPI, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, formed last year with support from global nonprofits, governments and industry. So far, the coalition has reached $630 million of its $1 billion funding goal and has distributed tens of millions of dollars to support vaccine work against its priority targets.

If the MERS vaccine advances to phase 2, Oxford University would manage testing in partnership with research centers in Saudi Arabia and Kenya. According to CEPI, J&J’s vaccine manufacturing platform can support “rapid and efficient” production of large numbers of doses if needed.

The MERS candidate has also won financial support from the U.K. government. U.K. biotech Vaccitech holds rights to the vaccine, but the company has granted some rights to Oxford for nonprofit public health uses.

Scientists first identified MERS in Saudi Arabia in 2012, and in 2015, 36 died and 186 were sickened in a South Korea outbreak. During that outbreak, experts lamented the lack of work on a vaccine that could have prevented the deaths. This summer, a MERS vaccine from Inovio and GeneOne, which also won CEPI support, showed promise in a phase 1 test.

After it formed early last year, CEPI handed its first grant to Themis in a $37.5 million deal to support work on Lassa and MERS vaccines. Since then, the group has inked a handful of development pacts, including collaborations with IDT Biologika, the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, and a partnership between Profectus BioSciences and Emergent BioSolutions. Early on, the group identified MERS, Lassa and Nipah as its priority vaccine targets.