A new scientific institute that aims to prevent future pandemics could have saved thousands of lives by accelerating vaccine development had it existed before December 2019, its researchers believe.
Liverpool’s new Pandemic Institute will include a new human challenge facility, where volunteers will test new vaccines and treatments under controlled conditions.
If the vaccine candidates could have been tested during the first wave of infections, the jabs would have been ready months earlier, according to Professor Daniela Ferreira, head of clinical science at Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM), and one of the new institute team.
LSTM is one of seven city universities, hospitals and local authorities behind the institute, which launches Monday with £ 10 million funding from the Innova medical group.
Research on human challenges is already taking place in hospitals, but the Pandemic Institute will have a high-containment facility outside the hospital, speeding up the process.
“Here in Liverpool I ran one of the sites for phase 3 of the Oxford vaccine study,” Ferreira said. “We were able to set up very quickly. When the government implemented a national blockade, the number of cases plummeted. We expected to have the results of the vaccine study in three months, but it took much longer because there was less community transmission ”.
Had the Pandemic Institute’s facilities been available in January 2020, the first prototypes of antiviral drugs and vaccines could have been tested for their effectiveness during the first wave.
If the vaccines had been available for testing during the first wave, Ferreira believes they could have been ready “at least three months” earlier, at the start of the second wave in October, during which more than 80,000 people died.
“If we use a controlled model, you can have a much faster idea of whether or not a vaccine is likely to work,” Ferreira said.
Since new viruses are usually zoonotic diseases that pass from animals to humans, one of the main goals of the new institute will be to create a database of diseases that affect animals and try to determine which could be more likely to cross the species barrier.
“We have the largest database of pathogens and hosts in the world and where they are found,” said the institute’s director, Professor Matthew Baylis of the University of Liverpool. “We’re using that to drive some of our work on predicting – which animals the next coronavirus might emerge from, etc.”
With just 1,500 species of bats alone, the task is enormous. “What I hope is that 10 years from now, we can be much more precise as to which species we should observe and actually observe some of those species to confirm our predictions.
“At some point in the future we should be able to catch a virus and know what it is capable of. It is an enormously ambitious idea, but everything is contained in the [genetic] sequence. At some point in the future, a new virus would be found and without waiting to see what it does, we can say ‘it seems to have these properties, it could be transmitted in this way, it could cause this type of disease.’
That, in turn, would give vaccine researchers a huge advantage over current technology.
Several other bodies similar to the Pandemic Institute are being established around the world. This month, the World Health Organization opened the Intelligence Center against Pandemics and Epidemics in Berlin, and the French government launched Prezode, an international initiative focused on zoonotic diseases, while the Rockefeller Foundation is creating a Pandemic Prevention Institute. In the USA.
Baylis said he expected strong international cooperation and intends to establish three centers in eastern, western and southern Africa to work with local researchers.
Professor Henry Mwandumba, Acting Director of the Malawi-Liverpool-Wellcome Clinical Research Program, said that working with the Pandemic Institute would enhance cooperation between Malawi and the UK.
“I think the response to the pandemic would have been faster [with the institute]certainly in Malawi and other countries with limited resources. We could have mobilized the necessary resources to deal with a pandemic and systems that did not exist before the pandemic would have been put in place. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism