Latest actions see Europe at heart of global response to COVID-19
A call for proposals planned for Tuesday by the Innovative Medicines Initiative to develop therapeutics and diagnostics to address the COVID-19 epidemic is the latest example of how Europe has played a critical role in the global response to the coronavirus outbreak. From funding from CEPI and the Wellcome Trust to biopharma research programs with their roots in labs on the Continent, Europe has been at the heart of developing countermeasures against the virus.
The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) has taken a leading role in developing a prophylactic vaccine against COVID-19. The public-private partnership has provided grants to a host of vaccine developers, including CureVac AG, Inovio Pharmaceuticals Inc. (NASDAQ:INO), Moderna Inc. (NASDAQ:MRNA) and the University of Queensland. The Oslo-based group also has a partnership with GlaxoSmithKline plc (LSE:GSK; NYSE:GSK) to provide an adjuvant to enhance CEPI-funded programs (see “GSK to Provide Adjuvant to Boost Effectiveness, Stretch Supplies of 2019-nCoV Vaccines”).
Other vaccine developers such as Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ), which is developing a COVID-19 vaccine, are deploying technology born out of Europe. The recombinant adenovirus (rAdV) vector platform the company is using came from its 2011 acquisition of Dutch biotech Crucell N.V.
A similar story comes from one of the most prominent COVID-19 therapeutics developers. While the stock of Vir Biotechnology Inc. (NASDAQ:VIR) was gaining nearly 200% last week, the diligent work on its mAb therapies to treat COVID-19 has roots in a small town in the Swiss Alps. Vir’s technology stems from its 2017 acquisition of Humabs BioMed S.A., which is located in Bellinzona, Switzerland. The town is a little more than six miles from the Italian border and 50 miles from Milan, near the heart of the COVID-19 outbreak in Italy (see “Retail Investors Provide Week’s Only Bright Spots for Biotech Amid Downturn”).
The U.K.-based Wellcome Trust has been a vocal proponent of governments and international organizations ramping up resources to tackle the epidemic. In addition to being a founding partner of CEPI, the research charity is providing £10 million ($13 million) in research funding for COVID-19 therapies and has helped in the coordination and sharing of research data related to the virus. Last Thursday, Wellcome Trust Director Jeremy Farrar called on the World Bank to commit $10 billion to help low- and middle-income countries combat COVID-19.
IMI’s call to action
The IMI’s emergency call for proposals is putting forward €45 million ($50 million) plus in-kind commitments from EFPIA contributing partners to support consortia across four different topics: antivirals for rapid development to address the COVID-19 outbreak; development of new therapies to treat current or future coronavirus outbreaks; rapid development of diagnostics to be used in clinical trials to stratify patients and assess efficacy such as surrogate endpoints of viral clearance; and development of new tools to identify COVID-19 carriers and symptomatic patients suspected of having COVID-19 infection.
IMI is holding a webinar on Wednesday to discuss the proposal.
The program does not include preventative vaccines.
Alongside the IMI program, on Monday the European Commission launched its coronavirus response team, comprising five commissioners to direct the EU’s response to the COVID-19 crisis. The announcement comes as confirmed cases jumped over the weekend in Italy and began to climb in other major European countries such as Germany, France and the U.K.
The EC response team will work closely with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and EMA, which a month ago activated its plan for managing emerging health threats, which includes providing rapid scientific advice to COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics developers.