The Department of Health is launching a competition later this month offering up to a total of £35 million to help small businesses progress development of new vaccines against infectious diseases.

The fund is designed to support candidate vaccines against 12 diseases - chikungunya, Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever, ebola, hantavirus, lassa fever, Marburg virus, Middle East respiratory syndrome, nipah, plague, Q fever, Rift Valley fever and zika - identified by the UK Vaccine Network as a priority because they have the potential to cause epidemics in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).

The single-stage SBRI competition is looking to support vaccines that are ready for, or close to moving into Phase I clinical trials, with contract of up to £3 million on offer to successful applicants designed to underpin clinical development up to and including Phase IIb trials.

Of particular interest are high-risk proof of concept projects that apply emerging or existing vaccine platform technologies from other areas of vaccinology to the 12 priority diseases, vaccine delivery technologies that would allow for easier, simpler and more efficient administration, and diagnostics that can be used to demonstrate safety and/or correlates of immunity, amongst other priorities.

Also, because the competition is wholly funded by Official Development Assistance (through the Department of Health), candidate vaccines should be appropriate for use in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) and outbreak settings, the DH noted. Therefore, applicants should consider aspects such as ease and speed of manufacture, temperature stability and length of protection.

The competition opens on January 23. If not all of the £35 million are distributed this year, it will reopen in 2018.