Novo Nordisk Foundation puts $260m into vaccine drive

respiratory infections vaccine drive

The Novo Nordisk Foundation (NNF) is funding a major new R&D initiative in the area of respiratory infections, with up to DKK 1.8 billion ($260 million) earmarked for the project.

The NNF – a philanthropic non-profit organisation that owns a controlling stake in Danish drugmaker Novo Nordisk – said the aim is to discover and develop new or improved vaccines for infectious diseases that pose a significant burden on health around the world, including tuberculosis and influenza.

The Novo Nordisk Foundation Initiative for Vaccines and Immunity (NIVI) initiative, set up in partnership with the University of Copenhagen with support from Denmark’s Statens Serum Institut (SSI), isn’t the first to tackle vaccines for high-burden respiratory diseases, but takes a unique approach to the problem.

One differentiating factor is a focus on airway immunity, which has the potential to curb infection and transmission of respiratory diseases between humans, rather than systemic immunity.

Sometimes called mucosal immunity, the aim is to generate an immune response directly at the site of infection, which could help prevent even mild infection, block transmission, and generate long-term protection.

Work will focus initially on TB, flu, and group A streptococcus (GAS) infections, which collectively cause more than 2.5 million deaths per year. There is currently no licensed GAS vaccine, and the only available TB vaccine does not prevent lung disease in adolescents and adults. Meanwhile, influenza vaccines have limited efficacy and provide only short-term protection.

Another differentiator is the NIVI’s novel structure, combining a state-of-the-art research centre with a limited liability company, according to the NNF. That will help to ensure that breakthroughs in research can be translated quickly and efficiently into vaccine candidates that can be tested in clinical trials.

A unit called Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Vaccines and Immunity (NCVI) will carry out basic research, identifying promising vaccine candidates based on a range of antigen and delivery technologies.

Thereafter, the company – Novo Nordisk Foundation Vaccine Accelerator (NVAC) – will carry out activities like licensing and developing vaccine technologies, preparing vaccine formulations, reagents and assays, and coordinating production and clinical testing of candidates.

Overall, the initiative should be able to take candidates through to phase 2 proof-of-concept testing, said the NNF.

NIVI is the second major investment programme announced by the Foundation in a matter of weeks, coming shortly after it unveiled plans to provide up to DKK 950 million in funding for the creation of a cell therapy development and manufacturing facility called the Cellerator in Denmark.

“The development of the COVID-19 vaccines demonstrated the extraordinary possibilities when interdisciplinary vaccine research and development are prioritised,” said Professor Mads Krogsgaard Thomsen, chief executive of the NNF.

“With NIVI, the Novo Nordisk Foundation and the University of Copenhagen are building on that momentum and dreaming even bigger – working towards a world where respiratory diseases no longer end the lives of millions of people every year,” he added.

One individual will be named to head both NCVI and NVAC, with an announcement due in 2024.