By Kate Kelland
LONDON, March 10 (Reuters) - An international coalition set up to prepare for future infectious disease threats set out what it called its "moonshot" plan on Wednesday to ensure new vaccines against emerging disease epidemics are developed within 100 days.
Launching a $3.5 billion five-year strategy to tackle future pandemic risks, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) said more needs to be done urgently to mitigate the threat posed by new COVID-19 variants, and to prepare for new infectious diseases.
Compressing vaccine development timelines to 100 days would make them around a third as long as it took the world to develop the first COVID-19 vaccines, CEPI said in a statement.
It called on governments, global health organisations and other partners to back what it said was a "critical investment in global health security" and to take advantage of "the revolution in vaccinology that has been catalysed by COVID-19".
"We now have the tools to dramatically reduce or eliminate the risk of future epidemics and pandemics," CEPI's chief executive Richard Hatchett said. "We must invest now in the vaccines and biologic countermeasures that we need, while linking these investments with commitments to equitable access."
CEPI, which was created in 2017 with initial donor funding from Germany, Japan and Norway and from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust global health charity, has played a key role in funding early development of a range of candidate vaccines against COVID-19.
Its plan for 2022-2026 is now focused on honing and adjusting vaccines for use against the SARS-CoV-2 and other coronaviruses, as well as preparing for as yet unknown emerging disease threats.
To be able to squeeze vaccine development timelines down to 100 days, CEPI said, researchers and drug developers would need to exploit the capabilities of so-called rapid response platform technologies, such as the mRNA approach used in COVID-19 shots developed by Pfizer-BioNtech and Moderna for example.
It would also involve working with global drugs regulators to streamline the requirements needed for vaccines to be approved, and linking-up manufacturing facilities to enable rapid production of pandemic vaccines, CEPI said. (Editing by Angus MacSwan)