The emergence of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) in 2019 and subsequent COVID-19 pandemic, and ongoing Ebola and Lassa fever epidemics in western and southern Africa demonstrate the urgent need for vaccines and therapeutics against emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases. IAVI has a robust vaccine and antibody pipeline to address such challenges.
IAVI’s emerging infectious diseases (EID) vaccine platform includes four vaccine candidates to prevent diseases of global importance:
- Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)
- Lassa fever
- Marburg virus disease
- Ebola Sudan virus disease
The urgency for a COVID-19 vaccine is clear, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has classified viruses that cause the other diseases such as hemmorhagic fever viruses listed above as high-priority agents that pose a risk to national security. They have high case fatality rates, and in addition to being epidemic threats, have potential to be used for bioweapons.
IAVI’s EID vaccine candidates are based on a live, replication-competent recombinant vesicular stomatitis virus (rVSV) vector similar to the technology used to develop Merck’s highly effective Ebola Zaire virus vaccine, ERVEBO®, that was recently approved in 2019 by the European Commission, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, and, in 2020, regulators in several African countries. See graphic, below.
IAVI and Merck, known as MSD outside the United States and Canada, have been collaborating since 2020 to develop rVSV-based vaccine candidates to prevent COVID-19. In January 2021, IAVI and Merck announced they would discontinue development of their jointly developed SARS-CoV-2 vaccine candidate following review of findings from a Phase I clinical study. While the candidate was found to be generally well tolerated, the immune response was inferior to those seen following natural infection and to those reported for other SARS-CoV-2 vaccines.
IAVI and Merck continue to explore the potential of rVSV-based SARS-CoV-2 vaccines in preclinical research. The use of this established vaccine technology could help facilitate regulatory review of the vaccine candidate in the midst of the continuing global public health threat of COVID-19.
The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) is the main funder of IAVI’s Lassa fever vaccine program. The U.S. Department of Defense/Defense Threat Reduction Agency is the main funder of IAVI’s Marburg vaccine program and is supporting IAVI's COVID-19 vaccine program. The Government of Japan in collaboration with the World Bank has committed to contribute to IAVI’s COVID-19 vaccine program.
Scientists at IAVI’s Neutralizing Antibody Center at Scripps Research and immunologists at Scripps Research were part of a team that identified antibodies from the blood of recovered COVID-19 patients that are capable of neutralizing SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Animals that received the potent neutralizing antibodies were protected against disease after challenge with SARS-CoV-2. The results were published in Science in June 2020.
The portfolio of mAbs identified by IAVI and Scripps Research scientists and their partners provide the foundation for a comprehensive program with potential application to COVID-19 research, treatment and prevention as well as to other coronaviruses that may arise or re-emerge in the future.
IAVI is committed to ensuring that the mAbs we develop are affordable and globally accessible to the people who need them. Our 2020 global call to action, commissioned by Wellcome, highlights the lack of equitable access to mAbs in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). We proposed a set of actions that could solve the access problem, including a call for global health players to form innovative partnerships to address the need for affordable mAbs worldwide. Such collaborations for enabling affordable access to SARS-CoV-2 mAbs in LMICs could potentially be applied more widely to mAbs for a range of infectious and non-communicable diseases.