ARPA-H launches APECx program to transform vaccine discovery


Biden-Harris Administration’s ARPA-H initiative launches APECx program to transform vaccine discovery

ARPA-H program aims to eliminate viruses as future health threats

The Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H) launched today a research program to develop a computational toolkit that helps design vaccines that target many viruses at once. The program is called the Antigens Predicted for Broad Viral Efficacy through Computational Experimentation, or APECx.

Viruses remain a significant threat to global health and security, causing pandemics, cancers, and chronic illness — yet we lack vaccines for most of these viral diseases. The current methods for vaccine and drug development are often slow and expensive, due in part to an incomplete understanding of a virus protein’s structure and function, leading to years of research that is targeted narrowly to one virus.

“Viruses continue to threaten our health security and impact American health outcomes so designing vaccines that are capable of protecting against many emerging threats at once is critical,” said ARPA-H APECx Program Manager Andy Kilianski, Ph.D. “We need to fundamentally shift the vaccine development paradigm to catch up to the many viruses we can’t prevent today. APECx strives to remove roadblocks by developing toolkits and vaccines in ways that are currently not possible.”

To accomplish genus- and family-level vaccine development, APECx will leverage emerging computational innovations coupled with high-throughput biochemical and immunological data generation on a scale that has not been approached before. ARPA-H is emphasizing collaboration across academia and industry to accelerate these discoveries with unique tools that have yet to be tested for vaccine development.

Through a forthcoming Broad Agency Announcement (BAA), APECx will solicit proposals focused on three technical areas: high-throughput biochemical analysis and protein engineering, protein modeling toolkit development for antigen design, and translational candidate development and clinical evaluation. Antigens and targets identified through these technical areas will be transitioned to a development pipeline to produce vaccines and other treatments with the goal of targeting entire viral families with a single vaccine. The resulting vaccines would represent entirely new approaches to preventing the viral infections that are causing large acute and chronic health burdens across America.

“Through the pandemic, so many of us learned how scary and heartbreaking viruses without a vaccine can be. And as fast as COVID-19 vaccines were developed, anything that gets us even faster to safe solutions saves lives,” said ARPA-H Director Renee Wegrzyn, Ph.D. “Through this new program, we’re taking on the challenge: ‘What if we could develop a vaccine that works against a family of viruses?’ With APECx, we aim to revolutionize vaccine development and accessibility in the United States and around the globe, with the ambition to shift humanity to a proactive stance for pandemic prevention.”

APECx intends to test and evaluate the best mechanisms for sharing data and creating accessible toolkits and aims to significantly lessen health burdens on people, health care systems, and the economy. The discovery toolkits developed from APECx, and the resulting vaccine candidates, may have the potential to benefit from other research and development programs currently being led by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health, and the Biomedical Research and Development Authority.

Multiple awards under this BAA are anticipated. Resources available will depend on the quality of the proposals received and the availability of funds. A Proposers’ Day for interested research teams is scheduled for November 17, 2023, in Denver, Colorado. Learn more about APECx on its program page, including information about the Special Notice, Proposers’ Day registration, and how to state interest to form an applicant team.