Barinthus' new mission gets $35M booster from CEPI funding to develop MERS shot

Barinthus Biotherapeutics, formerly known as Vaccitech, is getting a shot in the arm thanks to $34.8 million in funding to develop a Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) vaccine. 

The investment from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations will go towards fast-tracking the development of the vaccine candidate for MERS, which is often fatal and caused by the MERS coronavirus. Barinthus will work with the CEPI and the University of Oxford to develop VTP-500 through phase 2 trials, according to a Thursday release. If successful, the partnership will continue with the development of a reserve of 100,000 doses that could be deployed swiftly in the event of an outbreak.

“Coronaviruses are one of the most urgent infectious disease threats the world faces, so it’s vital that we get on with developing medical defenses against this particularly deadly one—MERS,” said Richard Hatchett, M.D., CEPI’s CEO. “With this project, we will both advance scientific understanding of the coronavirus family as a whole and at the same time bolster humanity’s ability to respond to an ever-present epidemic threat.”

The funds will be on top of what had previously been committed to the University of Oxford to develop a MERS candidate. The technology is based on what the college used to develop the COVID-19 shot that became Vaxzevria, which was ultimately partnered with AstraZeneca.

VTP-500 has already been tested in a phase 1 study in Britain and Saudi Arabia and an extension is underway testing the candidate in the U.K. for older adults. The program received a priority medicines, or PRIME, designation from the European Medicines Agency earlier this month.

William Blair analysts said that the partnership “springboards” VTP-500 and validates Barinthus’ technology platform, according to a Thursday note. The investment is a “more capital efficient method” to get the vaccine through development than going it alone, the firm said.

Vaccitech emerged in 2016 with a universal flu vaccine candidate from the University of Oxford.

CEPI was launched at Davos in 2017 as a partnership between public, private, philanthropic and civil organizations to develop accessible vaccines.