CEPI Board Reaffirms Commitment To Safeguard Access To New Vaccines

The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), an innovative collaboration of governments, UN agencies, foundations and the private sector, has reaffirmed its commitment to safeguard and promote equitable access to new vaccines under development to head off the risk of disease outbreaks, epidemics and pandemics that threaten global health.

In a comment to Health Policy Watch today, at the close of a two-day Board of Director’s meeting in Tokyo, Jane Halton, chair of the CEPI Board, said that CEPI “is confident that the implementation of CEPI’s access policy will safeguard equitable access to the products developed through CEPI. This includes issues of affordability and data, and extends through development to licensure.”

The comments came in the wake of an open letter to CEPI published by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF / Doctors Without Borders) days before the start of the Board meeting, raising concerns that recent changes to CEPI’s Equitable Access Policy, “no longer guarantees that the vaccines CEPI funds will be made available at an affordable price.”

Halton said that “CEPI’s Board considered this issue and the concerns raised in MSF’s letter in great detail, and it was agreed that we share a common purpose with our partners including MSF in tackling the devastating impacts of epidemics, particularly in already vulnerable communities.”

She said CEPI would publish a full report by the end of March, explaining how the vaccine development agreements it has already signed will achieve equitable access.

“The Board made clear it deeply values the role of MSF, both in holding us to our goals and in continuing to push us to do the best we can on this issue and looks forward to continuing to work with MSF in the future,” she said.

“It was agreed that the meeting of those objectives [on access] needs to be done in a transparent and accountable way,” she added, “and that CEPI will honour its commitment to publish (by the end of March 2019) how the agreements it has already signed will achieve equitable access, and will do continue to do so regularly.”

CEPI’s Mission and Background

Launched in 2017 at the World Economic Forum in Davos, in the aftermath of the devastating 2014-2015 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, CEPI already has 21 vaccines in the development pipeline to head off the threat of similar such events happening in the future. Founded by the governments of India and Norway, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Wellcome Trust and the World Economic Forum, the initiative is partnering with the private sector, civil society and the World Health Organization to accelerate vaccine development.

CEPI’s website describes the initiative as “an innovative global partnership between public, private, philanthropic, and civil society organisations,” with the mission to “accelerate the development of vaccines against emerging infectious diseases and enable equitable access to these vaccines for people during outbreaks.”

“In a world characterised by increasing population density, human mobility, and ecological change, emerging infectious diseases pose a real and growing threat to global health security. Epidemic diseases affect us all. They do not respect borders. Vaccines are one of our most powerful tools in the fight to outsmart epidemics,” it explains.

More information on CEPI members, investors and partners is available here.

In other actions at the two-day meeting in Tokyo the Board “reviewed updates from the secretariat regarding the project portfolio, further resource mobilisation and investment strategies, HR, Governance and approved the 2018 Annual Report,” a CEPI spokesperson told Health Policy Watch.

CEPI Response to Questions over Recent Changes to its Access Policy

Days before the start of the March board meeting, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF / Doctors Without Borders) sent an open letter to CEPI and its Board questioning recent changes to CEPI’s Equitable Access Policy, saying that the revised policy “no longer guarantees that the vaccines CEPI funds will be made available at an affordable price.”

The original access policy, MSF said, “contained important safeguards including enforceable commitments on pricing and intellectual property, grounded in transparency and disclosure of information and knowledge.”

CEPI’s response, in a statement published on the CEPI website, said that access principles applied to legal contracts with individual partners could be more effective than a proscriptive rules-based approach:

“Achieving our aim requires working with multiple partners and taking multiple approaches to achieve the desired equitable access objectives. As a result of consultation, CEPI’s Equitable Access Policy has evolved from a ‘rules-based approach’ that previously mandated specific access requirements that proved to be a barrier to many potential partners, to a ‘principles-based approach’ that provides a robust foundation for advancing equitable access.”

The CEPI statement added that the “principle of access” would be more effectively embedded in legally binding agreements with partners, which “deploy a range of mechanisms for its realisation—whether that be through establishing requirements on access to vaccines (including price) for affected populations or ensuring that data, information, and materials arising from CEPI-funded R&D are rapidly and openly available for further study and research.”

The CEPI statement noted further that it was working “with affected countries such as Nigeria, DRC, Bangladesh, and India as well as collaborating with public, private, and academic partners to get life-saving vaccines out of the lab and into the clinic so affected populations can benefit.

“Over the past year, we’ve committed to investing up to $350 million in the development of potentially life-saving vaccines,” the CEPI statement added. “We can now say with assurance that access will be delivered in all circumstances not just those specified in the previous policy.”

The recently revised access policy is available here [pdf].

The original access policy, developed with the support of legal experts from WHO, Wellcome Trust and MSF, is available here [pdf].

CEPI’s Aims and Plans Going Forward

In January of this year, CEPI launched a call for proposals, “to develop human vaccines against Rift Valley fever and Chikungunya viruses. This will be CEPI’s third call for proposals since January, 2017. USD$ 48 million of funding will be made available through this call and it is expected to fund up to eight projects.”

“Over the coming months, we expect to make additional announcements about our vaccine development portfolio and our epidemiological work throughout the year,” the CEPI spokesperson said.

Two years in from its founding, CEPI has accomplished much. It now “has nine partnership agreements established with partners ranging from academic institutions, to biotech firms, to large multinational corporations. Across these partnerships, CEPI is supporting a portfolio of seventeen vaccines,” and has “committed over 270 million US dollars to develop vaccines,” Richard Hatchett, CEO of CEPI, said in a press conference held at the World Economic Forum in January 2019.

CEPI’s priority diseases include Nipah, Lassa, MERS, Chikungunya and Rift Valley fever, which are drawn from the guidance of the World Health Organization’s Research and Development Blueprint for Action to Prevent Epidemics.

CEPI also focuses on technological platforms to accelerate the development and manufacturing of vaccines. CEPI has recently awarded a contract to CureVac for a transportable and automated RNA printer that will enable a more rapid response to known and unknown pathogens during future epidemics.

“In coming weeks and months, we will be announcing more partnerships,” and “we will initiate the first clinical trials of vaccines supported by CEPI. This will be a tremendous milestone for the organisation of course, but also more generally for the global fight against epidemic diseases,” Hatchett said.

“What CEPI has essentially done, is it’s changed the way that we think about epidemics. It has changed that paradigm. Two years ago, persuading people that you could do research in the context of an epidemic… just was not possible,” Jeremy Farrar, director of Wellcome Trust, said the press conference.

“By pooling resources, we [now] have the opportunity to do so,” because “none of us can do this on our own,” he said.

Image Credits: CEPI / CureVac.

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