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The University of Oxford and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) today announced the launch of a new project to initiate early development of prototype vaccines against the Junín virus, selected as an exemplar of the Arenavirus family which is responsible for multiple deadly haemorrhagic fevers with epidemic and pandemic potential.

CEPI will provide up to $25 million to Oxford for preclinical and Phase I clinical development of a vaccine against the Junín virus using Oxford’s ChAdOx platform – the basis for Oxford’s COVID-19 vaccine, which saved 6.3 million lives in the first year of the global vaccine rollout – and other rapid response platforms. Endemic to the Pampas of South America, a large region of over a million square kilometers which includes Buenos Aires, Junín virus can cause Argentine Haemmorhagic Fever, with symptoms including muscular pain, dizziness, rashes, and a 15-30% case fatality.

The project is being led by Professor Teresa Lambe, Calleva Head of Vaccine Immunology and a Professor of Vaccinology & Immunology based in the Oxford Vaccine Group (OVG), and investigator at the Pandemic Sciences Institute at the University of Oxford.

She said: "Our work will not only inform best-in-class vaccines against the Junín virus, but it will also support vaccine development for the broader group of Arenaviruses. It is this wider impact that could crucially help the world develop and manufacture safe, affordable vaccines at speed, preparing us for future pandemic threats."

The Oxford team was able to develop a COVID-19 vaccine with unprecedented speed, in part because of their prior work to develop a vaccine against MERS which is a closely related virus from the coronavirus family. This gave the team a significant head start when COVID-19 emerged because they had solved many of the critical vaccinology problems for coronaviruses in advance.

CEPI and OVG now aim to replicate this approach for the Arenavirus family by generating crucial knowledge about vaccine design and biological mechanisms linked to protection against the Junín virus which could significantly accelerate vaccine development against other viruses within the Arenavirus family. The viral family comprises New World Arenaviruses, a distinctive group within the Arenavirus family that includes viruses like Junín, as well as Old World Arenaviruses like Lassa fever, one of CEPI’s priority pathogens which are listed on the WHO R&D Blueprint as needing urgent R&D action.