New Partnership Aiming to Advance Vaccine for MERS


With it comes the possibility for international cooperation regarding an investigational Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) vaccine.

MERS | Image credit: Pexels

Barinthus Biotherapeutics announced it has partnered with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the University of Oxford to accelerate the development of the vaccine, VTP-500, targeting the prevention of MERS, a fatal illness with no licensed vaccines or treatments.

“There is an active need for a MERS vaccine for at-risk populations and travelers in the Middle East,” said Barinthus Bio CEO Bill Enright. “As we observed during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is critical to ensure we have the necessary countermeasures in place to protect people around the world from deadly pathogens such as MERS which have the potential for future outbreaks.

CEPI is set to invest up to $34.8 million in Barinthus Bio, in addition to previous funds committed to the University of Oxford to develop and stockpile an emergency MERS vaccine. The VTP-500 project utilizes the proven ChAdOx1 platform. Success in phase 2 trials would propel VTP-500 toward regulatory approval, with the potential for rapid deployment in clinical trial settings during substantial MERS outbreaks. The urgency to develop medical defenses against coronaviruses, particularly the deadly MERS, is underscored by CEPI Chief Executive Officer Richard Hatchett, MD.

“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 Hatchett, “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.”1

The 3-way partnership allocates up to $34.8 million to Barinthus Bio, building on the early-stage development of VTP-500. Based on the same viral vector platform as the licensed Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, Vaxzevria, VTP-500 has completed phase 2 trials in Great Britain and Saudi Arabia. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) awarded the VTP-500 program PRIME designation in recognition of its potential to address the unmet need for MERS.

"VTP-500 is a prophylactic vaccine product candidate to prevent disease caused by MERS-CoV. VTP-500 is based on the ChAdOx1 platform, which is the same used in the Vaxzevria COVID-19 vaccine. The key difference is that rather than encoding the spike glycoprotein from SARS-Co-V2, our vaccine encodes the spike protein from MERS-CoV," said Barinthus Biotherapeutics Chief Business Officer Graham Griffiths. "We insert precise genetic instructions for making one or more antigens, a protein specific to MERS-CoV in this case, into the ChAdOx1 vector. The ChAdOx1 vector particles are then formulated into a vaccine to deliver the genetic blueprints for the antigen into cells of the body, to induce a robust immune response against the targeted disease.

·After injection of VTP-500, ChAdOx1 binds to the surface of cells at the site of injection.​ ChAdOx1 enters the cell and uses the cell’s own protein​ production machinery to generate many thousands of copies of​ the antigens. The antigens are processed by the cells into proteins and peptides, which induce immune responses involving B cells and T cells. In the case of the MERS vaccine, the induction of neutralizing antibodies against the MERS-CoV virus is thought to contribute to vaccine-associated protection."

3 Key Takeaways

Barinthus Biotherapeutics has entered a significant collaboration with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the University of Oxford.

MERS has claimed over 2,600 human infections in at least 27 countries since its identification in 2012, with a case-fatality rate exceeding 35%, highlighting the global impact of the disease

CEPI is set to invest up to $34.8 million in Barinthus Bio for the development and stockpiling of an emergency MERS vaccine.

“The COVID-19 pandemic showed us the critical importance of vaccines in saving millions of lives around the world,” said Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert, Pandemic Sciences Institute, University of Oxford. “We had a head-start in developing the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, thanks to the many years already spent researching a vaccine for another coronavirus, MERS. This new partnership will help ensure the world is better prepared with vaccines for future outbreaks.”1

MERS is a severe respiratory infection that has claimed more than 2600 human infections in at least 27 countries since its identification in 2012, with a case-fatality rate exceeding 35%. The partnership underscores a commitment to equitable access to VTP-500 in alignment with CEPI’s Equitable Access Policy.

"Two phase 1 studies have been completed in the UK and Kingdom of Saudi Arabia by the University of Oxford, and a third is currently underway in the UK. We continue to move our programs forward and will provide updates as we progress," explains Griffiths.

The project's significance is further highlighted by the European Medicines Agency's PRIME designation and the potential to address the unmet need for MERS. Barinthus Bio's forward-looking statements acknowledge the uncertainties and risks inherent in vaccine development, emphasizing a commitment to regular updates and transparency. Suppose the vaccine is successful in phase 2 trials, CEPI will support the production of an investigational ready reserve of 100,000 doses which can be rapidly deployed in a clinical trial setting in response to an outbreak of MERS.


1. New partnership aims to advance vaccine against MERS coronavirus. CEPI. Published December 21, 2023. Accessed January 18, 2023.,prevention%20of%20Middle%20East%20Respiratory

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