This New Group Wants to Stop Pandemics Before They Start

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Global epidemics tend to follow an unfortunate pattern: An emerging disease—like Zika or Ebola—infects thousands of people, but vaccines and drugs are not developed fast enough to be of any real benefit. This week, a global group called the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) launched with significant funding and the aim to develop vaccines for known infectious disease threats. The goal is to have vaccines ready before an epidemic starts.

CEPI was announced Wednesday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, with initial funding of $460 million from the governments of Germany, Japan and Norway, as well as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust. The group hopes to shorten the amount of time it takes to develop new vaccines for emerging diseases by embracing innovative vaccine technology and funding labs that are able to respond quickly to outbreaks.

The group is first targeting the MERS-CoV, Lassa and Nipah viruses. All three have the potential to cause large outbreaks, and the goal is to have two potential vaccines for each of these viruses ready before an epidemic hits. The group may also provide support for research on strains of the Ebola, Marburg and Zika viruses.

CEPI says it has raised nearly half of the $1 billion the group needs for the first five years. With the initial investment, the group is now asking for proposals from pharmaceutical companies or researchers for vaccine development. CEPI aims to meet its full investment goal by the end of 2017, and hopes more governments and organizations will consider partaking.

“Ebola and Zika showed that the world is tragically unprepared to detect local outbreaks and respond quickly enough to prevent them from becoming global pandemics,” said Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in a statement about the launch. “Without investments in research and development, we will remain unequipped when we face the next threat.”

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