Europe ramps up response to COVID-19 outbreak

With a call for proposals by the Innovative Medicines Initiative for COVID-19 development programs and a new vaccine development consortium led by a Denmark-based biotech, Europe is ramping up its response to the coronavirus outbreak.

The European Commission designated €90 million ($97.4 million) in new funding for the IMI to sponsor grants for therapeutics and diagnostics for COVID-19. IMI, a partnership between the EU and the pharmaceutical industry, will start accepting proposals early next month.

The proposals, which can receive a maximum of €45 million, must concern either “clinical-ready” therapeutics to treat the current outbreak, including preventive and symptomatic treatments; novel therapeutics for the current or a future outbreak, or to prevent resistance; or screening technology and diagnostics. The program will not fund vaccine development.

IMI said several companies have already expressed interest in joining an applicant consortium to contribute financially or with their scientific know-how and drug discovery and development expertise: the Janssen Pharmaceuticals unit of Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ); Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd. (Tokyo:4502; NYSE:TAK); Roche (SIX:ROG; OTCQX:RHHBY); Servier; Astellas Pharma Inc. (Tokyo:4503); Covance Inc.; and Illumina Inc. (NASDAQ:ILMN).

Separately, ExpreS2ion Biotech Holding AB (SSE:EXPRS2) said Monday it is leading a European consortium seeking grants from EU Horizon 2020 and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) to start clinical testing of a COVID-19 vaccine within a year.

The EC allocated €10 million from its Horizon 2020 program to fund research into the prevention and treatment of COVID-19, while CEPI offered a rolling funding opportunity to develop and manufacture already proven vaccine technology against the coronavirus.

The consortium includes AdaptVac, a JV between ExpreS2ion and NextGen Vaccines ApS that uses a capsid-like virus particle platform spun out of the University of Copenhagen to develop therapeutic and prophylactic vaccines; CDMO AGC Biologics A/S; the Biomedical Primate Research Centre, which will be in charge of setting up a non-human primate SARS-CoV-2 challenge model; Wageningen University, which will develop immunogenic glycoproteins of the virus; and three additional institutions with infectious disease expertise -- the University of Tübingen, Leiden University Medical Center and the University of Copenhagen.

The application period for both grant programs closed in mid-February.

Also this month, the Jenner Institute at the University of Oxford signed a contract with Advent Srl, an Italian CMO, to produce the first batch of the university’s COVID-19 vaccine, ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, for clinical testing. The vaccine comprises an adenovirus encoding the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein that has been modified so the adenovirus cannot reproduce. It is one of at least four viral vector-based vaccines in development to treat COVID-19 (see “The Count of Companies Developing Vaccines Rises”).

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