Disease X concept explained by WHO doctor in 2018
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An epidemic taskforce is scrambling to develop a vaccine three times faster than the one developed for Covid in 2020 to help prevent the spread of the next pandemic. The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) is an international organization tasked with protecting against future pandemics. The organisation has unveiled a detailed plan which it claims is a practical proposition to develop a vaccine for “Disease X” within 100 days.
CEPI chief executive Richard Hatchett told the Financial Times that the organisation prepared the proposition through in-depth research and consultation with international health bodies, vaccine companies, scientists and regulators.
Set up in 2017, CEPI is hoping to raise $3.5billion (£2.9billion) for a five-year programme to help turbocharge the development and manufacturing of vaccines against any emerging virus with that could threaten to become the next global pandemic.
“Disease X” is the terrifying codename given to the very serious threat that unknown viruses pose to human health.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has a shortlist of pathogens deemed a top priority, including big killers like SARS and Ebola, which it updated last week. There are around a dozen families of viruses that could threaten to spark the next pandemic.
While there are 1.67 million unknown viruses on this planet. According to estimates, anywhere between 631,000 and 827,000 of those viruses have the ability to infect people. But disease X represents the uknown.
However, CEPI is aiming to have a vaccine go through initial clinical trials and get approved for emergency use within 100 days of a virus being recognised as a pandemic threat scientific community once its genetic sequence has been released.
The organisation says that the quickest comparable figure for Covid was 326 days between Chinese scientists releasing the Sars-Cov-2 viral genome in January 2020 and the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency approving the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine in December 2020.
According to Mr Hatchett, the early stages of development work may even have to start well in advance of a disease outbreak being officially recognised as an international health emergency or pandemic.
He told the Financial Times: “Once a new pathogen has demonstrated some degree of human-to-human transmission and some evidence of severity, you have to make a value judgment and do some things at risk because you can’t regain lost time.
“Those first investments are relatively small, several million dollars, and don’t commit you to spending hundreds of millions on day one.”
The UK’s Vaccine Taskforce leader in 2020, Dame Kate Bingham, has said that while the 100-day target is achievable, it “relies on very close international collaboration and leadership to prepare in advance for Disease X”.
Ms Bingham reported directly to the Prime Minister while in charge of the Taskforce during the pandemic, leading a team of world-class experts from across industry, science, academia and Government.
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She has previously warned that preparation in advance of a future pandemic is vital, arguing the Government was “woefully” unprepared to fight against Covid.
Speaking at the annual Romanes Lecture at Oxford University, she said: ‘We invest in our conventional forces, we recognise the importance of developing intelligence and we plan for a vast array of difference scenarios, yet we our neglecting the most likely threat to the nation – the next pandemic.
“We must act now to build our defences against a future catastrophe. Another war is coming, let’s make sure we have the right people, with the right skills to fight it.”
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