Professor Jonathan Heeney

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that DIOSynVax, a biotech spinout of the University of Cambridge, will receive $42 million (about £32 million) to develop a vaccine candidate that could provide protection against both existing and future variants of SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes COVID-19 – as well as other major coronaviruses, including those that cause SARS and MERS.

Our approach is to be ahead of the next pandemic - to deliver custom designed, immune selected vaccine antigens – which is ideal to prevent diseases caused by complex viruses such as the large and diverse family of coronaviruses

Jonathan Heeney

The investment from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) will support the development of an mRNA vaccine. DIOSynVax, led by Professor Jonathan Heeney, Head of the Laboratory of Viral Zoonotics, University of Cambridge, will design and select the lead antigen through proof-of-concept preclinical studies, and undertake initial clinical development through Phase I/II studies.

DIOSynVax uses the combination of protein structure, computational biology and immune-optimisation to maximise the protection that vaccines can provide against global threats including existing and future virus outbreaks. Its vaccine candidates can be deployed in a variety of vaccine delivery and manufacturing platforms.

The DIOSynVax pipeline includes vaccine candidates for haemorrhagic fever viruses, influenza, and SARS-CoV-2, the latter of which is currently in clinical trials.

If DIOSynVax’s novel antigen design is successfully deployed using the intended mRNA platform, it could potentially be used to enable rapid development of vaccines against so-called Disease X – unknown pathogens with pandemic potential that have yet to emerge.

Professor Jonathan Heeney, Cambridge, said: "We are excited to be working with CEPI on its ground-breaking mission to leverage revolutionary science and technology to outmanoeuvre and minimise future pandemic threats.

"Our approach is to be ahead of the next pandemic - to deliver custom designed, immune selected vaccine antigens – which is ideal to prevent diseases caused by complex viruses such as the large and diverse family of coronaviruses. If successful, it will result in a safe, affordable NextGen vaccine for widespread use.”

CEPI, DIOSynVax and the University of Cambridge are committed to enabling global equitable access to the vaccines developed through this partnership. Under the terms of the funding agreement, DIOSynVax has committed to achieving equitable access to the outputs of this project.

Dr Richard Hatchett, CEO of CEPI, said: “The UK Government and the country’s world-leading scientific institutions have been pivotal to the global response to COVID-19. From the development of the CEPI-supported Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine – which is used in more countries than any other – to the ground-breaking Recovery trial to evaluate life-saving treatments like dexamethasone, British science has played a leading role in protecting the world from COVID-19.

“I am excited to further strengthen CEPI’s strong ties to British science through this partnership with DIOSynVax, Cambridge, to develop a vaccine with the potential to protect against variants of SARS-CoV-2 and other Betacoronaviruses in the future. Coronaviruses have now proven their pandemic potential, so it’s imperative for global health security that we invest in R&D now to future-proof the world against the threat of coronaviruses.”

The announcement was made today at the Global Pandemic Preparedness Summit, which brings together a unique mix of leaders across governments, international agencies, science and academia, industry, philanthropy, and civil society to explore how to collectively prepare for future viral threats and mobilise critical resources and political support for CEPI’s work.

DIOSynVax is a spin-out company from the University of Cambridge, set up in 2017 with the support of Cambridge Enterprise, the University’s commercialisation arm.

Professor Heeney is a Fellow at Darwin College, Cambridge.

Adapted from a press release from CEPI

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