With so many COVID-19 vaccine candidates, how to decide which ones are the best of the lot? According to Oslo, Norway, based non-governmental organization (NGO) Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), one way to do this is by centralising the analysis of samples and standardising the reporting of vaccine data.

CEPI has set up a network of six labs across the world, including one in India, where developers can have their COVID-19 vaccine candidates tested against a "common protocol", Reuters reported on 2 October 2020.

As things stand, there are over 320 vaccine candidates for COVID-19—including vaccines like COVAXIN and ZyCoV-D from India. Because these candidates are being developed simultaneously in different labs across different geographies, their protocols for reporting data can be different and difficult to compare. The CEPI lab network hopes to solve this problem, with one lab each in India, Bangladesh, Canada, UK, Italy and the Netherlands.

To be sure. each country has its own national health authority that does the vetting of vaccines and medicines. In India, this falls within the ambit of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and the Indian Council of Medical Research.

Global lab network

CEPI was founded in Davos in 2017, to coordinate efforts against future epidemics. This network of labs is reportedly its first such initiative to coordinate vaccine testing against a pandemic. The CEPI lab network is a voluntary service for the labs that choose to use it.

The network will initially only service vaccines in the early stages of development and vaccines in the first two phases of human trials. But its representatives said they hoped to include vaccines in the final human trial stage soon, too.

Speaking to news agency Reuters, a CEPI representative said they hoped the global lab network would make it easier to compare COVID-19 vaccine candidates, like comparing apples to apples.

It remains to be seen how the CEPI service will pan out and how many vaccine makers will avail it. CEPI has said that the lab network will send the data back to the vaccine developer with neither CEPI nor the lab network laying claim to the data.

Vaccine landscape

CEPI has been involved in COVID-19 vaccine initiative before this, too: it is co-funding COVID-19 vaccine candidates by manufacturers such as Moderna, AstraZeneca and Novavax. The nine vaccines backed by CEPI are also part of the COVAX initiative to ensure that all countries get equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, according to a 24 August 2020 news release by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Separately, the WHO on 2 October 2020 released an updated "draft landscape of COVID-19 candidate vaccines". According to this document, there are 42 vaccine candidates in human trials currently. This tally includes Russia's Sputnik V—Dr Reddy's Labs is awaiting approval from the Drugs Controller General of India to start trials of this vaccine in India.

The WHO has also invited COVID-19 vaccine developers to apply for prequalification or emergency use listing for vaccines in late phase 2 and phase 3 of human trials. According to news reports, Serum Institute, Bharat Biotech and Dr Reddy’s Labs are eligible to apply from India.

Nearly 35 million people had contracted the new coronavirus infection COVID-19 and over one million had died at the time of publishing on 3 October 2020.

Medicines / Products that contain CEPI sets up lab network to hold all COVID-19 vaccines to the same standards, Reuters reports

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