The rapid development of the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines currently being used will go down as one of the most impressive accomplishments in scientific history. However, the fight against coronaviruses is far from over. Not only because of the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 variants, but also the possibility of other coronaviruses causing a pandemic threat.
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is not letting up on its fight against COVID-19 and future coronavirus-related outbreaks. To this end, the NIAID has awarded approximately $36.3 million to three academic institutions to conduct research to develop vaccines to protect against multiple types of coronaviruses and viral variants. The awards are intended to fuel vaccine research for a diverse family of coronaviruses, with a primary focus on potential pandemic-causing coronaviruses, such as SARS-CoV-2.
“The available COVID-19 vaccines have proven to be remarkably effective at protecting against severe disease and death,” said Anthony S. Fauci, MD, NIAID director. “These new awards are designed to look ahead and prepare for the next generation of coronaviruses with pandemic potential.”
The new awards are funded by NIAID’s Division of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases and its Division of Allergy, Immunology, and Transplantation through the Emergency Awards Notice of Special Interest (NOSI) on Pan-Coronavirus Vaccine Development Program Projects. The notice was issued in November 2020 while many SARS-CoV-2 vaccines were still under development because a critical need remained for prophylactic vaccines offering broad protective immunity against other coronaviruses, such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (SARS-CoV).
The awards are designed to fund multidisciplinary teams at each institution to conduct research focused on incorporating the understanding of coronavirus virology and immunology, immunogen design, and innovative vaccine and adjuvant platforms and technologies to discover, design, and develop pan-coronavirus vaccine candidates that provide broad protective immunity to multiple coronavirus strains. Specific programs will address coronavirus diversity and infectious potential in humans, include innovative immunogen design and vaccine platforms and approaches to elicit potent and durable pan-coronavirus immunity, and evaluate vaccine candidates in preclinical models. The awardees are expected to be flexible in the response to emerging knowledge about SARS-CoV-2 immune responses and infection and factor in new information as vaccines candidates are developed. Additional awards are expected to be issued under the NOSI in 2022 to support pan-coronavirus vaccine research at more institutions.
The new awards build on the $1.2 billion investment NIAID has made in coronavirus vaccine research since the COVID-19 pandemic began, including multiple projects in pan-coronavirus vaccine research in the NIAID intramural and extramural programs.
A key goal of the initiative is to develop multivalent vaccine platforms and strategies suitable for use in vulnerable populations and to understand vaccine-induced responses and efficacy related to a person’s age or sex.
The following awards have been issued:
University of Wisconsin, Madison
Project Title: PanCorVac (Center for Pan-Coronavirus Vaccine Development)
Grant: 1 P01AI165077-01
Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston
Project Title: Discovering Durable Pan-Coronavirus Immunity
Grant: 1 P01AI165072-01
Duke University, Durham, North Carolina
Project Title: Design and Development of a Pan-Betacoronavirus Vaccine
Grant: 1 P01AI158571-01A1