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Oxford University and CEPI to develop vaccines against “Disease X”

The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) has pledged up to $80 million USD to develop rapid-response vaccine platforms in partnership with Oxford University with the goal of combatting potentially-pandemic pathogen outbreaks.

CEPI, an organisation financing research projects that aim to develop vaccines against epidemic pathogens, and Oxford have focused their efforts on combating “Disease X”, a term the WHO uses to refer to as-yet unknown diseases with the potential to cause pandemics.

Researchers with the Oxford Vaccine Group will focus on creating vaccines effective against several high-risk viral families, including flaviviruses like Zika and West Nile, viral hemorrhagic fevers, coronaviruses, and other diseases with the potential to spread rapidly. According to Dr. Richard Hatchett, this program aims to enable researchers to prepare prototype vaccines that could be adapted to a specific pathogenic outbreak in as little as 100 days. 

This partnership will build on Oxford’s existing ChAdOx technology, which uses adenoviral vectors to develop vaccines. This technology was crucial to the development of the Oxford-Astrazeneca COVID-19 vaccine, and has potential to advance further research in vaccine manufacture.

According to CEPI, as globalisation, urbanisation, and climate change increase human contact with animals and with each other, the eventual outbreak of a future Disease X is “all but inevitable”, but programs like the CEPI-Oxford partnership aim to mitigate the spread and severity of a Disease X epidemic and prevent the devastation caused by pathogens like COVID-19 and Ebola. 

The partnership will also work to address issues of vaccine hesitancy and vaccine-related misinformation in communities affected by epidemic disease. 

Oxford student groups like Effective Altruism (EA) Oxford have lauded this partnership. Sofya Lebedeva, a DPhil student specialising in immunology and member of EA Oxford told Cherwell: “I am excited by the growing investment in biosecurity, especially since the Covid-19 pandemic.”

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