$460m pledged for vaccine initiative aimed at preventing global epidemics

By Sarah Bosely The Guardian

Lassa, Mers and Nipah will be first diseases targeted by programme announced at Davos by coalition of governments, philanthropists and business.

A coalition of governments, philanthropists and business is pledging to put money and effort into making vaccines to stop the spread of diseases that could threaten mankind – and to prevent another outbreak as devastating as the Ebola epidemic.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, the Norwegian, Japanese and German governments, the Wellcome Trust and the Gates Foundation announced they were putting in $460 million – half of what is needed for the first five years of the initiative. Three diseases will initially be targeted: Lassa, Mers and Nipah. All three are caused by viruses that have come from animals to infect humans and could trigger dangerous global epidemics.

Ebola virus had been known since it first infected humans in 1976, but the outbreaks were relatively small and, although deadly, did not greatly trouble most of the world until the disease hit cities, spread across west Africa and cases were seen in the USA and Europe.

Experts are determined to do everything they can to prevent such unexpected disasters. Ebola killed more than 11,000 people and devastated the healthcare systems and economies of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.

The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) will direct money into research for vaccines for infectious diseases that afflict low and middle-income countries and are not research priorities for pharmaceutical companies because there is not a lucrative market for them. One of the key aims of CEPI will be to ensure the vaccines are affordable and accessible to all who need them.

Jeremy Farrar, chief executive of the Wellcome Trust, said changes in the environment, in people’s interactions with animals and urbanisation were all factors that could trigger an outbreak in humans of a new infectious disease. Of the series of epidemics in the last couple of decades he said: “That is not going to stop. It is the way the world is structured now.”

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