Accelerating vaccine development for the fight against COVID-19
Developing a vaccine is a time-consuming and complex process. But as the current global pandemic has made abundantly clear, time is of the essence. That is why a group of EU-funded researchers launched a platform that provides services, support, networking, and training to help accelerate the development of important vaccines, including one for COVID-19.
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Updated on 9th July 2020
When it comes to disease prevention, nothing beats a good vaccine. Unfortunately, developing one is a time-consuming and complex process a fact that has become abundantly clear during the COVID-19 pandemic.
To succeed, research cannot happen in a silo. Instead, there must be international cooperation, public-private partnerships, and a sharing of resources and expertise. In Europe, such an effort is being driven in part by TRANSVAC2 an EU-funded project led by the European Vaccine Initiative (EVI) and is dedicated to accelerating vaccine development.
TRANSVAC2 supports the development of innovative preventative and therapeutic vaccines, both for human and veterinary use, says Hilde Depraetere, Director of Operations at EVI. In doing so, we aim to not only answer such pressing healthcare challenges as the COVID-19 pandemic, but also position Europe as a global leader in vaccine R&D.
Services, support, networking, and training
To streamline vaccine development, TRANSVAC2 offers a wide range of services to all stages of the vaccine development pipeline the majority of which are available free-of-charge. All services are complemented by joint research activities performed by the consortium partners.
These initiatives tend to focus on improving adjuvants, predictive assays, and system biology methods, adds Depraetere. They aim to address current major gaps in vaccine development knowledge and are designed to improve and support the services provided.
TRANSVAC2 also offers a number of networking initiatives, one being making common sample collections available to partner institutions. By sharing different animal-derived samples, our biobank helps reduce the number of animals used in research studies, explains Depraetere.
Last but not least, TRANSVAC2 has also set up 14 vaccine R&D training modules at various leading European research centres. The aim of this initiative is to train scientists in vaccine research and development in order to sustain Europes leadership in this field, says Depraetere. We have now trained over 100 researchers in such areas as analytical science, clinical and process development, and regulatory aspects.
Special R&D support for vaccines, now targeting COVD-19 vaccines
This unique combination of services, support, networking, and training has proven to be a winning combination. Within the first three years of TRANSVAC2s launch, 38 services were granted to 23 projects submitted by SMEs and research institutions from Europe, South America, and North America. These research projects cover a range of disease types, including bacteria, parasites, allergies, oncology and viruses, including most recently, Sars-CoV-2.
According to Depraetere, the enormous challenge posed by the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the pressure to develop appropriate tools to control and manage the disease. In contrast to treatments, vaccines can effectively flatten the curve of infections in advance, she says. There is only one major problem: a vaccine often comes too late for the current wave of infections.
In support of the global effort to accelerate the development of a vaccine, TRANSVAC2 launched a specific call for applications for the development of COVID-19 vaccines. The project is set to provide 31 services to eight awarded research groups from SMEs and public institutions, all of whom are dedicated to the fast development of a COVID-19 vaccine. A variety of TRANSVAC2 services, from antigen discovery to preclinical and clinical trial support, will be delivered to help speed-up the COVID-19 vaccine development pipeline.
Vaccine development typically takes many years, requiring different technological platforms that are usually not housed within single research institutions, concludes Depraetere. Rapid progress towards the development of potent vaccines can only happen through concerted and coordinated efforts around Europe and the world and TRANSVAC2 is well positioned to facilitate such efforts. To boost this fast and COVID-19 focussed vaccine R&D support, the EU provides, in agreement with Member States, additional top-up funds worth EUR 4 million.