Inovio, Moderna score CEPI funding for vaccine work against deadly coronavirus

In a swift response to the spread of a new coronavirus in China, global outbreak preparedness group Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) unveiled funding for three early-stage vaccine programs. 

Moderna this week disclosed that it’s working with federal researchers on a candidate, and now it'll have financial backing from CEPI. Pennsylvania-based Inovio Pharmaceuticals scored $9 million in funding for its own program, and CEPI is further expanding a partnership with the University of Queensland.

For Moderna, CEPI’s funding will cover manufacturing for an mRNA vaccine candidate against the new coronavirus strain. The work will be further supported by federal researchers at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) who will conduct preclinical tests and a phase 1 study. 

Separately, the CEPI grant will cover Inovio's development costs through phase 1 for the biotech's candidate, dubbed INO-4800. The vaccine is based on Inovio’s DNA medicine platform that the company says enables rapid development of a vaccine against emerging threats. 

Inovio and CEPI already have some history. In 2018, CEPI awarded Inovio up to $56 million over five years for its work on Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and Lassa fever vaccine candidates.  

RELATED: On the heels of Themis deal, CEPI hands Inovio $56M for Lassa fever and MERS vaccines 

Inovio was involved in the Zika outbreak response as well and reached human testing with its vaccine candidate in just seven months, CEO Joseph Kim said in a statement

“We believe we can further improve upon this accelerated timeline to meet the current challenge of the emerging Chinese coronavirus 2019-nCoV,” he added. 

The company has routinely jumped into emerging disease research, but has yet to take a product through to an approval. Moderna doesn't have any approved drugs or vaccines, either.

The coronavirus has already killed 26 people and infected at least 881 people in Wuhan, China state TV reported this week.

RELATED: Moderna, federal researchers kick off vaccine work against deadly new coronavirus 

Aside from those vaccine efforts, Baylor College of Medicine has a program to develop new coronavirus vaccines for severe acute respiratory syndrome and MERS, Peter Hotez, dean for the National School of Tropical Medicine, told FiercePharma. In conjunction with NIAID, plus scientists in New York and Shanghai, the team is testing whether the vaccines could protect against the new coronavirus. 

CEPI formed in 2017 as a partnership between governments, philanthropists, pharma companies and others to address a gap in vaccine development funding after Ebola and Zika caught the world off guard. The group set out to raise $1 billion to fund research against numerous threats, and, so far, it has granted $450 million.