CEPI, CureVac team up in $34M deal to advance RNA vaccine 'printer'

Since it formed two years ago, the global outbreak preparedness group CEPI has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in vaccine candidates against infectious diseases. Now, it’s back at it with CureVac in a deal to help the biotech advance its mRNA vaccine "printer." 

The three-year partnership, worth up to $34 million, will start by focusing on preclinical candidates against Lassa fever, rabies and yellow fever. CureVac's transportable mRNA printing facility is designed to quickly create mRNA vaccine candidates against known pathogens, plus new and unknown diseases, a category the World Health Organization calls “Disease X.”

After preclinical work, the partners aim to advance two vaccine candidates against named diseases into phase 1 testing. Along the way, CureVac will continue collaborating with its existing partners, including the University of Wisconsin.

CureVac says its mRNA vaccine candidates direct cells to make proteins or antigens against various diseases. The platform encapsulates mRNA in a shell of lipid nanoparticles to protect it for delivery. The RNA printer itself—essentially a vaccine production device—can make “more than a hundred thousand doses” in a couple of weeks, the biotech says. It could work in a hospital pharmacy to help produce personalized medicines, for instance, as well as in outbreak regions.

RELATED: Global coalition backs Imperial College London’s RNA vaccine platform to fight ‘Disease X’ 

CEPI’s grant to CureVac is one in a series of investments the global preparedness group has made. Formed in 2017, the group initially focused on Lassa, MERS and Nipah viruses, but more recently has sought partners to work on vaccine platforms against unknown pathogens, plus Rift Valley fever virus and Chikungunya.  

So far, CEPI has raised $750 million of its $1 billion fundraising goal from nonprofits and governments.

CureVac’s new partnership comes about a year after the biotech snagged grants from the Gates Foundation to work on universal flu and malaria mRNA vaccines. Before that, the global nonprofit made a $52 million equity investment in the company and Eli Lilly struck up to a $1.8 billion deal to work with CureVac on mRNA cancer vaccines.