March 04, 2019

Research Roundup: CEPI invests in vaccine printer tech, new bednet strategy to fight malaria, and Themis' chikungunya vaccine nabs FDA Fast Track

Ansley Kahn
Senior Program Assistant
PATH/Mike Wang

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The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) is investing US$34 million into the German biotech company CureVac to develop vaccine “printing” technology that could rapidly manufacture vaccines to treat multiple diseases. Specifically, this funding will help CureVac work on a prototype of its RNA printer product, a transportable automated printing facility for molecules known as messenger RNA (mRNA)—used to transport genetic information from DNA into a cell, instructing it to produce a specific antigen to induce an immune response. As part of this three-year deal with CEPI, CureVac will use its mRNA platform to produce vaccines for Lassa fever, Rabies, and Yellow fever. If preclinical tests are successful, two of the vaccine candidates will be developed through early-stage safety trials in people. As epidemics of infectious diseases can be unpredictable and fast-moving, CureVac’s vaccine platform could help improve our ability to defend against such pathogens.

Treating bednets with an antimalarial drug could be a promising new approach to controlling the disease. Although insecticide-treated bednets have been credited with averting 68 percent of all malaria cases since 2000, scientists believe mosquitoes are developing a resistance to pyrethroid, the insecticide predominantly used to treat bednets. Researchers at Harvard University demonstrated that an antimalarial drug can be transmitted to mosquitoes through brief direct contact and effectively halt the transmission of the malaria-causing parasite. In the study, researchers coated a petri dish with atovaquone, a commonly used antimalarial drug. Mosquitoes landed on the treated surface for approximately six minutes and were then fed a blood meal rife with the malaria parasite. Results showed that none of the mosquitoes treated with antimalarial drugs harbored the parasite and demonstrated proof of concept that antimalarial-treated bednets could be a powerful new tool in the fight against malaria.

The US Food and Drug Administration has granted Fast Track designation to the Themis Bioscience chikungunya vaccine candidate, which allows the product to receive an expedited agency review given its potential to meet an unmet medical need. Themis hopes this designation will support its phase 3 development efforts for the vaccine, which showed encouraging results in phase 2. Two other chikungunya vaccine candidates have also received Fast Track designation, though the Themis vaccine is the most advanced in development. There are no current treatments or vaccines for chikungunya, a disease for which symptoms include debilitating joint pain.