Pharma joins Gates Foundation, international governments in $1B outbreak prep group

Top drugmakers have joined with governments and nonprofits around the world to launch an alliance that’ll take a proactive approach to potential deadly outbreaks.

Dubbed the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), the group has netted $460 million in funding with the aim to initially focus on the MERS-CoV, Lassa and Nipah viruses.

GlaxoSmithKline, Merck, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, Sanofi and Takeda signed on to support the group, according to a release, in conjunction with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Wellcome Trust and the governments of Germany, Japan and Norway.

India is “finalizing … a significant funding commitment,” and the European Commission is another contributor.

The coalition is designed to be an “insurance policy against epidemics,” according to the announcement, and will conduct work on vaccines against deadly viruses before an outbreak. Members also hope to expedite vaccine development in the event of an emergency such as Ebola or Zika, which both caught scientific communities off guard.

All told, CEPI seeks $1 billion in funding for its first 5 years of operation; it hopes to wrap up the fundraising by the end of the year.

Bill Gates, co-chair of the Gates Foundation, said the world is “tragically unprepared” to detect and respond to outbreaks. “Without investments in research and development, we will remain unequipped when we face the next threat,” he said in the statement.

In MERS, experts voiced frustration in 2015 as the virus killed people in South Korea despite the fact that much was known and that a vaccine likely could have been developed. In many cases, for-profit pharmaceutical companies are wary to jump into early research if the economics of a potential vaccine aren’t clearly defined. There remains no licensed MERS vaccine.

To support the international effort, GlaxoSmithKline recently opened an R&D hub in Rockville, Maryland, seeking to “walk the talk” with biopreparedness and offer a tangible resource. Scientists there will research emerging diseases as well as work on commercial programs.

And just this week, a group of experts called for a “champion group” to guide Ebola vaccine development to ensure that work does not go unfinished as attention shifts elsewhere.