£10 million to combat potential epidemics in developing countries

A young scientist conducting research in a laboratory

22 research projects have been selected by the government’s UK Vaccine Network (UKVN) and will help tackle viruses such as Ebola, Lassa Fever and Zika.

Research into vaccines and innovative new vaccine platforms to tackle some of the world’s deadliest diseases in low and middle-income countries has been backed by £10 million of UK aid funding, the government has announced.

Developing vaccines

Official development assistance (ODA) funding, provided by the Department of Health and Social Care’s (DHSC) UKVN, and to be delivered by Innovate UK, has been awarded to 22 research projects.

The projects will support development of vaccines for diseases that have the potential to become epidemics.

This includes:

  • Ebola
  • Lassa Fever
  • Zika
  • Crimean-Congo Haemorrhagic Fever
  • Chikungunya virus.

Some of the projects are also looking at ways to tackle ‘Disease X’, a hypothetical future pathogen, to ensure the world is equipped for future epidemics or pandemics.

Over £115 million UK aid funding

The UKVN has already funded 78 projects with over £115 million worth of UK aid funding, as part of the government’s commitment to:

  • defeat poverty
  • tackle instability
  • create prosperity in developing countries.

For example, earlier work on a Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome vaccine by the University of Oxford allowed them to develop the Oxford AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine more quickly.

The vaccine has since protected tens of millions of people across the world.

The project was funded in part by the UKVN.

Combatting viruses

Some of projects that have been awarded the funding include:

  • £462,462 to the University of Nottingham for a vaccine to prevent infection by viruses such as Dengue or Zika
  • £498,357 to DIOSynVax for their vaccinate candidate able to combat Lassa Fever, Ebola and Marburg viruses
  • £449,946 to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) for development of a Nipah model of disease to support future vaccine development.

The projects will be able to use the new funding from 1 April 2022.

Grant considerations

Grants took into consideration:

  • the ease and speed of manufacturing the vaccine
  • the ease of use in low to middle-income countries, for example, ensuring they’re needle-free or looking at other forms of administration
  • temperature stability
  • single dose or a low number of boosters needed
  • length of protection
  • vaccine platforms that can be rapidly adapted for new or re-merging diseases
  • vaccines that protect against several strains of a single pathogen, or against several pathogens.

Protecting against COVID-19 and future diseases

The UK is committed to supporting the rest of the world in protecting people from COVID-19 and future diseases.

It has invested more than £88 million to support the development of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine and, to date, has donated 32.2 million COVID-19 vaccine doses.

26.7 million of these doses have gone to COVAX, a global scheme to get vaccines to developing countries.

This builds on the £1.3 billion in UK aid committed to the international health response early in the pandemic, supporting vaccines, health systems and economic recovery in developing countries.

Saving millions of lives

Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said:

COVID-19 has shown us first-hand just how important it is that we work together to keep everyone across the world safe.

I am delighted that these innovative projects, tackling serious and deadly diseases, will receive the funding they need to take their research to the next stage.

Thank you to the expert scientists behind these vital projects for their efforts that will continue to save millions of lives.

Delivering vital work

Indro Mukerjee, Chief Executive of Innovate UK, said:

Innovate UK is proud to deliver this vital work on behalf of the UK Vaccine Network. This will build on the crucial delivery of vaccines and vaccine platform technologies.

These projects will help to prevent future outbreaks of viral diseases in the developing world and may offer utility against future pandemics, as previously realised with the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine for COVID-19.

Further information

About the competition

The winners are for the funding opportunity ‘vaccines for epidemic diseases: readiness for clinical development and regulatory submission’.

This small business research initiative, ODA competition is funded by the DHSC, through the UKVN.

This research competition will be delivered by UK Research and Innovation.

The aim of this funding is to advance the development of vaccine technologies, or vaccine platforms to address the 13 diseases with epidemic potential in low and middle-income countries. These have been identified by the UKVN, including Disease X.

Funded projects

The full list of projects that have won the funding include:

  • £499,363 to Phion Therapeutics for a peptide-mRNA vaccine for Crimean-Congo Haemorrhagic Fever
  • £474,999 to Biologic Technologies to develop technology for rapid, accessible, globally-distributed RNA vaccine manufacture on demand
  • £399,821 to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency for an international serological standard for plague to support vaccine developers with plague vaccine candidates entering clinical trials
  • £499,937 to the University of Oxford for Good Manufacturing Practice manufacture of a vaccine targeting a viral haemorrhagic fever, particularly Marburg virus
  • £498,357 to DIOSynVax for a quadrivalent viral haemorrhagic fever vaccine for Lassa Fever, Ebola and Marburg and Crimean-Congo Haemorrhagic Fever
  • £262,528 to the University of Oxford for a clinical trial assessment of a multivalent vaccine against Ebola virus
  • £462,462 to the University of Nottingham for a single-dose DNA vaccine platform to safely induce protective immunity against Zika
  • £455,682 to the University of Surrey for a multivalent vaccine to prevent Zika and Chikungunya: progression and readiness to phase II trial
  • £500,001 to Imperial College London for manufacturing more cost-effective saRNA vaccines
  • £500,000 to the University of Oxford for clinical development of a plague vaccine: a phase 1b trial in a target population in Uganda
  • £449,946 to the UKHSA for the development of a Nipah model of disease
  • £499,297 to John Innes Centre for delivering stabilised mRNA to cells for antigen production. It will eventually make RNA-based vaccines available to regions of the world where refrigeration to low temperatures is very difficult or impossible
  • £389,089 to The Pirbright Institute for a Nipah vaccine for enhanced protection in pigs, reducing the risk of it being passed on to humans
  • £377,409 to Oxford Expression Technologies for development of a vaccine against Crimean-Congo Haemorrhagic Fever
  • £492,559 to Oxford Vacmedix UK for a novel T cell-based vaccine potency assay to accelerate and improve development and manufacturing
  • £490,525 to Emergex Vaccines Holding for the development of a CD8 T-cell priming vaccine against Chikungunya virus
  • £487,363 to the University of Liverpool for a phase 1b/2 study of a Zika vaccine
  • £415,262 to Conserv Bioscience for a pan-coronavirus vaccine
  • £499,800 to Activirosomes for a pre-clinical characterisation of a novel vaccine for prevention of Chikungunya
  • £252,273 to the Protein Forge for vaccine platform development
  • £288,609 to IsoBio Ltd for an oral Nipah vaccine
  • £425,976 to the UKHSA for the development of immune assays for a Crimean-Congo Haemorrhagic Fever vaccine to aid phase I clinical trials.

About UKVN

The UKVN sits within the department’s Global Health Security programme.
It was established to address market failure in the development of vaccines and vaccine technologies that will help combat infectious diseases that have epidemic potential in low and middle-income countries.

UKVN is a UK aid investment, which means all projects funded must support research primarily and directly for the benefit of people in low and middle-income countries.

About Innovate UK

Innovate UK drives productivity and economic growth by supporting businesses to develop and realise the potential of new ideas, including those from the UK’s world-class research base.

They connect businesses to the partners, customers and investors that can help them turn these ideas into commercially successful products and services, and business growth.

Top image:  Credit: PeopleImages, Getty Images

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