CEPI partners with Biological E. Limited to advance development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccine candidate


CEPI, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and Biological E. Limited, India (Bio E), a Hyderabad-based vaccines and pharmaceutical company, today announced a collaboration to advance the development and manufacture of Bio E’s COVID-19 subunit vaccine candidate. CEPI will initially contribute up to $5m toward the cost of scaling up the process for manufacturing the vaccine, and will explore providing additional funding to Bio E with the goal of potentially enabling the production of 100 million doses in 2021.


Bio E initiated a Phase 1/2 clinical trial to evaluate the safety and immunogenicity of the vaccine candidate in India in November 2020, and expects interim data from the trial to be available in Q1 of 2021.


CEPI and Bio E are committed to global equitable access of COVID-19 vaccines and have agreed that vaccine output funded by CEPI’s investment will be made available for procurement and allocation, if proven to be safe and effective, through the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) Facility. The COVAX Facility aims to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for all countries, at all levels of development, that wish to participate.


The Bio E COVID-19 vaccine candidate


Bio E’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate is based on classical vaccine technology of a protein antigen, SARS-CoV-2 Spike RBD, adsorbed to the adjuvant Alhydrogel (Alum), in combination with another approved adjuvant, CpG 1018. The RBD of S1 subunit binds to the Angiotensin Converting Enzyme-2 (ACE2) receptor on host cell membrane and facilitates virus entry.


RBD protein is expressed in yeast Pichia pastoris, and is similar to technology Bio E is employing for large-scale commercial production of Hep B vaccines. The Baylor College of Medicine construct “RBD N1C1” was selected as the final vaccine antigen candidate on the basis of its manufacturability, due to the yields of protein antigen achieved, ease of process steps and favourable formulation aspects.


The combination of Alum with CpG with N1C1 antigen elicited a highly synergistic, balanced immune response in preclinical models. Four formulations with these components are currently being evaluated in a Phase I/ II clinical study in India to select the final vaccine candidate to be tested in subsequent Phase III trials.


Potential advantages of this vaccine candidate include scalability and thermostability, which could make it suitable for deployment at scale in low-resource settings.


Dr Richard Hatchett, CEO of CEPI said:


“The world has made huge strides in developing vaccines against COVID-19, but there is still much work ahead of us and it is absolutely critical that vaccine R&D continues at pace. To end the acute phase of the pandemic, and control the virus in the longer term, we will need a range of safe and effective vaccines that can be manufactured at scale to meet global demand for billions of doses, and deployed to a wide range of populations and settings so that nobody is left behind.


“Bio E’s vaccine candidate has the potential to be produced at scale, and characteristics which could make it suitable for broad distribution in developing countries. I’m pleased to partner with Bio E to progress the development of this promising vaccine.”


Ms. Mahima Datla, Managing Director, Biological E. Limited said:


“We are very happy to have partnered with CEPI on this endeavour. This collaboration with CEPI validates the technology platform BioE is working on for developing an effective COVID-19 vaccine candidate. The initial investment from CEPI comes on the heels of investments from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Government of India’s Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC), and provides the impetus for accelerated efforts towards a successful and scalable outcome for global access. 


“Over the past 10 months, the world has witnessed an unprecedented health emergency and is eagerly awaiting a COVID-19 vaccine. We are working tirelessly to produce a safe and effective vaccine against COVID-19 at an unprecedented pace’’ she further added.


About CEPI’s COVID-19 vaccine programmes


Built on the principles of speed, scale and equitable access, CEPI is supporting the research and development of a diverse portfolio of vaccine candidates based on a range of vaccine approaches. Including Bio E, CEPI has invested in 11 vaccine candidates, nine of which are still in development, and seven of which are in clinical trials.


CEPI has raised US$1.3bn in support of COVID-19 vaccine research and development, but urgently needs $800m in additional funds to achieve its aim of developing three safe and effective vaccines which can be made globally available through COVAX. These funds are vital for CEPI to progress the most promising vaccine candidates in the portfolio through crucial late-stage clinical trials to prove their safety and efficacy, and ultimately to licensure.