Tailor-made flu and Disease X vaccines to be created in $8 million project


Virus particle

Imperial College London and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations have formed a partnership to help protect against Disease X.

The $8.4million project will develop technology to rapidly develop vaccines against known pathogens - such as flu, and unknown pathogens, called Disease X.

Vaccines are needed more than ever—essential to outbreak response, biosecurity, and the ever-present threat of a Disease X scenario”. Prof Robin Shattock

The project will create a so-called self-amplifying RNA (saRNA) vaccine platform. The idea behind this saRNA approach is to harness the body’s own cell machinery to make an antigen (ie, a foreign substance that induces an immune response) rather than injecting the antigen directly.

Currently, vaccines can take 10 years or more to develop. They must go through many phases of development—including research, discovery, pre-clinical testing, clinical testing, and regulatory approval. However, epidemics, by their nature, are sporadic, unpredictable and fast-moving.

Through this partnership, the Coaltion for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and Imperial aims to develop vaccines against new and unknown pathogens within 16 weeks from identification of antigen to product release for clinical trials. 


Imperial will lead a consortium to develop “RapidVac”: a broadly applicable, synthetic, self-amplifying RNA (saRNA) vaccine platform.

Imperial will use their RapidVac platform to produce vaccines against influenza (H1N1), Rabies virus, and Marburg virus, and look to move these products forward to phase 1 clinical testing in humans.

If successful, this platform could transform regional and global preparedness against outbreaks of Disease X, enabling rapid production of large volumes of effective “single-shot” vaccines (ie, providing protection against infection with only one injection) or “cocktail” vaccines (effective against different pathogens) in a matter of weeks.

In September, 2017, CEPI requested proposals for so-called vaccine platform technologies that enable rapid vaccine development, elicit rapid onset of immunity, and whose production can be scaled-up quickly to respond to outbreaks of Disease X. This partnership represents CEPI’s first investment in such platform technologies.

Vulnerable to unknown pathogens

Dr Richard Hatchett, CEO of CEPI, said: “100 years ago, the worst pandemic in recorded history, the ‘Spanish flu’, killed an estimated 50m people. Of course, our understanding of microbial threats has advanced immeasurably since then, but in many ways we are as vulnerable as ever to sudden attack by unknown pathogens. We’ve now put a name to such threats: Disease X, listed by WHO as a priority infectious disease threat.

“Our partnership with Imperial represents a vital part of our plan to create vaccine platforms that can significantly reduce vaccine development times—from a matter of years to weeks.”

“We cannot predict where or when Disease X will strike, but by developing these kinds of innovative vaccine technologies we can be ready for it”.

Prof Robin Shattock, Chair in Mucosal Infection and Immunity at Imperial College and Prinicipal Investigator, said:

“Next to access to clean water, vaccines have provided the greatest public health impact in human history. Today they are needed more than ever—essential to outbreak response, biosecurity, and the ever-present threat of a Disease X scenario”.

“We believe that synthetic self-amplifying RNA based vaccines offer the best opportunity for a ‘just in time’ response to infectious outbreaks, providing the needed technological shift to aggressively redefine the timelines for vaccine production. We are delighted to partner with CEPI in realising the promise of this new platform”.


See the press release of this article


Kate Wighton

Kate Wighton
Communications Division

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Contact details

Email: press.office@imperial.ac.uk
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