£500k awarded for research to combat bird flu

Testing for Avian Flu

The Pandemic Institute (TPI) has come together with partners to award almost £500,000 for research on Avian Influenza, in collaboration with the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).

Avian Influenza, also known as Bird flu, is a virus that can cause illness in captive and wild birds, and also has the potential to spread to mammals including humans. Certain forms of the virus are termed ‘highly pathogenic’, which means they have greater potential to cause serious illness and even death. The aim of this funding is to address research gaps in Avian Influenza knowledge, especially highly pathogenic Avian Influenza, particularly in the following areas:

  • Diagnostics
  • Anti-virals
  • Vaccines
  • Mathematical modelling to better understand the disease evolution and spread
  • Non-pharmaceutical interventions e.g. behavioural changes

The funding is provided jointly by TPI and The National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Health Protection Research Unit in Emerging and Zoonotic Infections (HPRU EZI) and the Pandemic Sciences Institute (PSI) in Oxford. £500k will be distributed across eight projects from several organisations, including the University of Liverpool, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, University of Oxford, all working alongside UKHSA, the government agency responsible for preventing, preparing for and responding to infectious diseases and environmental hazards.

Dr Carolina Arevalo, Deputy Director, Research, Evidence & Knowledge at UKHSA said: “We are pleased to collaborate with The Pandemic Institute on this funding call, addressing key research needs and strengthening existing partnerships with university researchers.”

One of the funded projects will seek to develop ‘drug knowledge libraries’, using mathematical modelling to simulate the optimal dose of particular drugs during a future outbreak or pandemic.

Professor Saye Khoo, Professor of Pharmacology & Therapeutics at the University of Liverpool said: “This is an important first step in building capability to respond to any emerging virus should an outbreak occur. There is no guarantee that an antiviral licensed for one disease will necessarily achieve effective target concentrations for another virus or new variant, and having these libraries will further allow us to respond flexibly and adapt rapidly to emerging flu outbreaks.”

University of Liverpool funded projects include:

  • Professor Saye Khoo: Modelling drug knowledge libraries for pandemic/avian flu
  • Dr Emily Nixon & Professor Kieran Sharkey: Modelling transmission of highly pathogenic avian influenza in poultry and mapping potential risk to humans
  • Dr Marcus Blagrove: Epidemic simulation of Influenza A: applications to current HPAI, and a deployable pipeline for future outbreaks.