World seeks temperature resistant vaccines to battle future pandemics

The hunt has begun for a new breed of vaccines that are not impacted by changes in temperature, as the lessons from the COVID pandemic continue to be learned.

The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), has launched a Call for Proposals to improve the thermostability of vaccines against known epidemic and pandemic diseases—like Ebola, Lassa fever, MERS, as well as COVID-19—or a novel Disease X.

The plan is to look to discover vaccines that do not need the complex cold-chain requirements in order to improve global access to vaccines and, in turn, reduce potential vaccine wastage.

CEPI is particularly interested in hearing from vaccine developers and tech companies with new or existing innovations that could support the development of one or more infectious disease vaccines that are both heat-stable and freeze-stable. Example innovations that CEPI may look to fund include temperature-stable vaccine nasal sprays, microarray patches, or orally administered vaccines.

In as little as two years, science has revolutionised the way we are responding to this dreadful virus, through the development of numerous safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines. Yet, while many high-income nations have easy access to these life-saving tools, low-resource and remote settings are limited by complex cold-chain requirements, contributing to the global vaccine inequity we see today,” said Ingrid Kromann CEPI’s head of CMC and vaccine R&D.

Any solutions must be applicable to current or future vaccines and accessible to low- and middle-income countries, and the innovations should not affect other key vaccine criteria such as costs, capacity, and ease of use, added CEPI.

Up to $17.5 million will be made available to support the innovations, with the aim to fund 3 to 5 projects in 2022. This work is part of CEPI’s goal, as part of its $3.5bn pandemic preparedness plan, launched in March 2021, to harness innovative technologies to improve the speed, scale and access of vaccine development and manufacturing in response to epidemics and pandemics. The Call may be extended to include other innovation areas that contribute to this goal.

“Vaccines are biological products which can lose their effectiveness when exposed to temperatures that are either too hot or too cold,” CEPI explained. “Therefore, cold-chains—involving fridges, freezers, cool boxes for shipping, and other equipment—are used to enable vaccines to be kept at a particular temperature during shipment, storage, and delivery.

“While advantageous for maintaining vaccine potency, such temperature requirements can make vaccines inaccessible to remote areas or low-resource settings lacking the infrastructure and technologies needed to store and distribute these vaccines at certain temperatures. This is true for the rollout of some of the currently approved COVID-19 vaccines, including Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccine technologies requiring ultra-cold temperatures of -20 °C to -80 °C.

“Cold chain requirements are also one of the key reasons for vaccines being wasted globally, as vaccines end up discarded after they have potentially been exposed to heat or freezing.”

It added: “The ability for vaccines to withstand heat exposure has therefore been identified as the most desired characteristic for vaccines used in outreach and campaign settings by experienced immunisation staff. Thermostable vaccines are also identified as a preferred vaccine characteristic by the World Health Organization (WHO).”

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