LONDON (Reuters) – A coalition seeking to get ahead of the next pandemic has agreed a $34 million deal with German biotech CureVac to develop vaccine “printing” technology that aims to rapidly produce shots against multiple diseases.

The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI)said its backing will help CureVac’s work on a prototype of its RNA Printer product – a transportable, automated printing facility for types of a molecule known as messenger RNA.

While traditional vaccines use parts of live or inactivated pathogens to generate an immune response, new technology being developed uses the mRNA molecule to transport genetic information from the DNA into a cell, instructing it to produce a specific protein or antigen to induce an immune response.

Epidemics of infectious diseases such as Ebola, Zika and Lassa can be unpredictable and fast-moving, yet developing vaccines against them can currently take 10 years or more.

CEPI, which was set up at the start of 2017, aims to dramatically speed up the development of vaccines against these pathogens, as well as new and unknown diseases – collectively known as Disease X.

Under the three-year deal with CEPI, CureVac will use its mRNA platform to develop potential vaccines against Lassa Fever, Rabies and Yellow Fever.

If preclinical tests for the three diseases are successful, two of the vaccine candidates will be developed through early stage safety trials in people.

“CureVac’s vaccine platform could be a game-changer, radically improving our ability to respond to the emergence of Disease X,” CEPI chief executive Richard Hatchett said in coalition statement.

The next epidemic could emerge “very suddenly and have deadly consequences”, he said. “We’ve seen this happen with Ebola, MERS coronavirus, Zika, and countless other diseases. That’s why we’re striving to develop rapid-response vaccine platforms to defend against these unknown pathogens.”

(Reporting by Kate Kelland; Editing by Mark Heinrich)