Responding to the rapid emergence of dangerous pathogens around the world, a new initiative to prevent or contain pandemics was announced in Davos, Switzerland, yesterday. If you ever worried that a highly contagious pathogen could take down your community, or the country, this news is for you.
More than 11,000 people died during the recent Ebola epidemic in West Africa. A vaccine for Ebola virus disease was not available until the outbreak was largely contained. The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) aims to provide proactive global structure to ensure that next time, we are ready.
The Ebola outbreak, and associated hysteria, drove home the real need for global cooperation to conduct research, develop safe vaccines, and put facilities in place to deliver medicine when the next infectious disease threat emerges. In March 2015, infectious disease and other experts met in Berlin to hear conclusions from four experts who assessed the response to the Ebola outbreak.
The assessments identified three major areas of need—national health systems, research and development, and global governance. At the 2016 Davos conference, stakeholders from a diverse network of interests agreed to explore these challenges. At this year's 2107 conference, CEPI, in alignment with the World Health Organization (WHO)—was launched.
The big push behind CEPI is to have tools, methods, and potential vaccines in the pipeline before the next outbreak. While you might think your local health department, the government, or private industry already have these drugs in the works, it is not the case—for a couple of reasons:
- Pharmaceutical companies have no economic incentive to develop vaccines that may not be needed.
- Global thinking and action on rapidly creating "just-in-time" vaccines has not been standardized.
- New tools and methods are needed to identify dangerous, emerging infections.
CEPI notes that "vaccines are part of a global solution." While a vaccine can take upwards of 10 years to develop, estimates place the annual dollar cost of a pandemic at about $60 billion. The Ebola vaccine, just now being shown as effective in humans, took two years to come to fruition, and only did so with enormous cooperation between government, agencies, and business.
CEPI plans to create and fund structure to:
- Provide money for the development of vaccines that are safe and available for populations in need.
- Structure vaccine development so that larger drug studies are ready before an epidemic is full blown.
- Create technologies and capabilities to identify and meet the challenge of emerging infectious pathogens.
The waning of the Ebola health crises left generations of people dead, destroyed economies, and shocked people around the world.
Not just experts wondered why there were not better measures in place to handle regional and global outbreak. Many people found themselves wondering, "What if it happens here?"
One year after Zika made headlines, criticism of the response to the virus mounts. The number of children and families permanently impacted by Zika-related microcephaly will be high.
Neither Ebola or Zika are over. While a vaccine has been developed for Ebola, it is not yet wholly available. A safe, effective vaccine for Zika remains in the laboratory. Initial virus targets for CEPI include:
- Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS)
- Ebola and Marburg hemorrhagic virus strains
MERS is a highly infectious and sometimes fatal respiratory infection, while Lassa, Ebola and Marburg are hemorrhagic viruses. Nipah is a relatively recent zoonotic virus that can cause severe respiratory infection. Each of these pathogens has been identified as having the potential to cause outbreak, epidemic, or pandemic.
CEPI is a part-public, part-private bridge initiative designed to provide structure, organization, and financial incentive to meet the challenge of infectious disease—wherever it occurs. The coalition intends to provide "just-in-time" services and vaccine development strategy for local, national and global healthcare personnel and agencies.
While fundraising is ongoing, CEPI has already raised $460 million of its projected $1 billion goal. Current partners in the venture include:
- the governments of Norway and India
- the Wellcome Trust and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
- World Economic Forum
"Ebola and Zika showed that the world is tragically unprepared to detect local outbreaks and respond quickly enough to prevent them from becoming global pandemics. Without investments in research and development, we will remain unequipped when we face the next threat," Bill Gates said on a press release from the Wellcome Trust.
The ability to rapidly develop and deliver vaccines when new 'unknown' diseases emerge offers our best hope to outpace outbreaks, save lives and avert disastrous economic consequences. CEPI is a great example of how supporting innovation and R&D can help the world to address some of its most pressing health challenges.
CEPI is already seeking proposals in line with its life-saving goals for effective vaccines to save lives otherwise be lost to microbes.