£5m awarded to fund research into vaccines for disease epidemics

First-in-human trial of universal flu vaccine candidate begins
Credit: Shutterstock.com/ Lemau Studio

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) has awarded £5 million to explore how infectious diseases spread and develop in epidemics in low and middle-incomes, so that new vaccines can be tested in clinical trials or used more effectively in future outbreaks.

Vaccines are an important way of responding to outbreaks of deadly infectious diseases – such as Ebola, Plague, Zika and Chikungunya – and for immunisation to prevent outbreaks.

The best way to test the efficacy of new vaccines is during a disease outbreak, but outbreaks occur sporadically and unpredictably. In addition, the main public health priority during an epidemic is to prevent spread and protect lives rather than undertake clinical trials.

Other factors, such as human behaviour, can also influence how effectively vaccines can be tested and rolled out during epidemics.

This new funding will support research into how epidemiological models, tools and technologies can assist with clinical trials and deployment of new vaccines in outbreak situations in low- and middle-income countries.

This research is funded by UK aid funding from the Department of Health and Social Care and delivered through the NIHR Policy Research Programme.

The funding was recommended by the UK Vaccine Network, chaired by Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Scientific Adviser to the Department of Health and Social Care, following the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak.

The network supports research to help low- and middle-income countries prepare to use vaccines to prevent and respond to future infectious disease outbreaks.

Professor Whitty said: “This research is part of a concerted effort to control outbreaks of the world’s deadliest diseases. Supporting research into promising vaccines and ways of delivering them has the potential to save thousands of lives in the future.”

The £5 million of new funding has been awarded to five research projects: three of which will be led by researchers at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and two by the University of Oxford.