IDT Biologika picks up CEPI deal worth up to $36M for MERS vaccine research

CEPI awarded its second contract to support emerging-disease vaccine research in less than a week. (Pixabay)

Since the global epidemic preparedness group CEPI was born in 2017, it has raised hundreds of millions of dollars to back vaccine R&D in emerging diseases. Now, the group has awarded its second contract in less than a week to IDT Biologika to fund work on a vaccine against MERS. 

Under the deal, worth up to $36 million, IDT will work to develop a vaccine against a disease scientists first identified in 2012. Middle East respiratory syndrome killed dozens of people in South Korea in 2015, and, at the time, some scientists assailed the lack of research on potential immunizations. The initial tranche for IDT is worth $15.7 million.

About a year after the South Korea outbreak, governments, pharma and nonprofits formed CEPI, or the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, to fund work on vaccines against emerging diseases. CEPI has so far raised $630 million toward a $1 billion goal and calls itself a “global insurance policy to defend against future epidemics.”

The Monday deal closely follows CEPI's agreement to award Baltimore-area biotechs Profectus Biosciences and Emergent BioSolutions up to $36 million to work on Lassa fever vaccine candidates. CEPI early on identified Lassa, MERS and Nipah as its initial vaccine targets, and has since supported Profectus, Inovio Pharmaceuticals, Themis and other companies working on immunizations against those diseases. 

MERS has claimed nearly 800 lives out of 2,229 confirmed cases since it was first identified, according to the World Health Organization. So far, only Inovio and its partner GeneOne Life Sciences have a MERS vaccine in early human testing.

RELATED: When it comes to a MERS vaccine, for Big Pharma, the money's not there yet 

The 2015 MERS outbreak isn't the only one that pointed to the dearth of emerging-disease research, either. Ebola cases in Africa also highlighted the issue of under-researched diseases—though Merck & Co.'s vaccine has advanced since then, and is now in use on an emergency basis for an outbreak in Democratic Republic of Congo.

In a statement, IDT CEO Andreas Kastenbauer said the company is "excited to support such an excellent consortium of esteemed scientific and clinical organizations for vaccine research and development."