The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) in Norway has awarded a contract to US-based Emergent BioSolutions and Profectus BioSciences to develop and manufacture a Lassa virus vaccine.

Under the terms of the framework partnering agreement, CEPI will provide development funding to Profectus for advancing its VesiculoVax-vectored vaccine to prevent the Lassa virus infection.

Initial phase of the project will receive $4.3m in funding from CEPI, with options for a total of up to $36m over five years. This includes vaccine procurement for stockpiling purposes.

Emergent will offer technical and manufacturing support for this programme.

The company also signed a separate agreement with Profectus, under which it will have an exclusive option to licence and undertake development activities for the Lassa virus vaccine.

Global non-profit organisation PATH will also partner with the consortium as part of a different agreement with CEPI. PATH will be working on clinical development of the vaccine.

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“Jointly we can address the substantial unmet medical need of those in areas where Lassa virus is endemic.”

Profectus BioSciences chair and CEO Thomas Lynch said: “Profectus is pleased to partner with CEPI, Emergent, and PATH in the development of our VesiculoVax-vectored vaccine to protect against Lassa fever.

“Jointly we can address the substantial unmet medical need of those living in, or travelling to, areas where Lassa virus is endemic.”

CEO of CEPI Dr. Richard Hatchett said: “Lassa fever continues to be a threat to public health in many parts of West Africa and has clearly demonstrated its potential to cause severe epidemics.

“In view of its epidemic potential, the World Health Organization has identified Lassa virus as a priority pathogen that needs further research and development.

“But despite the urgent need, no approved vaccine against the virus is currently available. CEPI’s investment of up to $36 million, over a five-year period, adds another Lassa vaccine candidate to CEPI’s growing portfolio and demonstrates our commitment to addressing this terrible disease.”

In May this year, CEPI entered a similar partnership with Emergent and Profectus for the development and manufacture of a vaccine against Nipah virus.

Under this deal, CEPI agreed to provide up to $25m to advance Profectus’ vaccine for the infection, and Emergent will provide technical and manufacturing support.

Emergent has an exclusive option to licence and assume control of the development of this vaccine too.