USA – The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust, a global charity foundation, have each pledged US$150 million to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) to fund its COVID-19 pandemic response and help it prepare for future major health crises, Reuters reports.

The contributions are intended to support CEPI’s plan to better prepare for, prevent, and respond to future epidemics and pandemics.

The Gates Foundation said in a statement that when the COVID pandemic began, CEPI responded immediately by developing “one of the world’s largest and most diverse portfolios of COVID-19 vaccine candidates,” three of which have been granted emergency use listing by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The pledges were announced on Tuesday, ahead of a fundraising event sponsored by the UK government on March 8 that aims to raise US$3.5 billion for CEPI, an international coalition formed five years ago to prepare for future disease threats.

CEPI’s five-year strategy includes a goal of reducing vaccine development timelines to 100 days, or roughly one-third of the time it took the world to develop the first COVID-19 vaccines.

The unprecedented spread of the highly infectious Omicron variant around the world over the past two months exemplifies the ways in which we must be ready both in terms of speed and the scale of our response to future threats,” CEPI Chief Executive Richard Hatchett said.

We must endeavor to take pandemic threats off the table if we can,” he added.

Hatchett stated that delivering COVID-19 vaccines in 11 months was unprecedented, but it was insufficient.

A COVID-19 vaccine could have been available as early as April 2020 if it had been developed within 100 days, which was CEPI’s pandemic goal.

According to Dr. Jeremy Farrar, director of Wellcome, an important lesson from the pandemic has been the need to have systems in place that allow for a quick response when a crisis occurs.

“None of us believe Omicron will be the last variant or that COVID-19 will be the last pandemic,” he said.

According to Bill Gates, co-chair of the Gates Foundation, research and development investment should be proportionate to the risk of pandemics in the future.

The latest Gates pledge brings the charity’s investment in CEPI over the last five years to US$270 million, bringing its total pandemic investment to US$2 billion.

We want the world not to forget about how bad this pandemic was,” he said.

CEPI made early investments in 14 COVID-19 vaccine candidates, including those from Oxford-AstraZeneca and Novavax, which were recently designated as an emergency by the World Health Organization.

The team is also developing next-generation COVID-19 vaccines that are effective against variants and future coronaviruses in the same family.

CEPI is currently supporting the research and development of accessible vaccines against other infectious diseases, including the first-ever vaccines to reach clinical trials against the Nipah and Lassa viruses in addition to fastening the process of developing life-saving vaccines.

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