Coronavirus Pandemic

Eye on future pandemics, Oxford to launch global research centre

Prasun Sonwalkar/London
Filed on May 28, 2021

(Reuters file)

Efforts to ensure that the world is better equipped to deal with future health care threats.

After playing a key role in developing a vaccine for Covid-19, the University of Oxford on Friday announced plans to set up a Pandemic Sciences Centre as a new locus of global research to ensure the world is better equipped to deal with future health care threats.

The centre, which will include a number of core institutes, will harness the strong global research collaborations that the university has developed over more than 40 years, across national borders between academic, industry and public health bodies.

Louise Richardson, Oxford’s vice-chancellor, said: “The recent pandemic has demonstrated the unique contributions research universities like Oxford can make to pandemic preparedness. We are building on decades of medical research on infectious disease and data science, we have long-standing international partnerships, and we have the ability to act and to adapt quickly.”

She added: “When aligned with industry and with public health bodies we can ensure that the world is never caught unprepared again.”

The centre will draw together academics and experts from across the university’s research and innovation community, including infectious diseases, vaccinology, immunology, structural biology, diagnostics, drug discovery, clinical trials, data science, public health, and social and political sciences.

The centre's three core themes are: Accelerating understanding and insights: generating actionable knowledge and data (from pathogens through to patients) in near ‘real-time’ and making this globally accessible; translating research into real-world solutions: creating and deploying effective, acceptable and equitable health technologies, including digital tools, diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines; and enhancing confidence, trust and impact: identifying ways to strengthen societal and political engagement, resilience, and responsiveness.

The centre’s inaugural director will be Peter Horby, professor of Emerging Infectious Diseases at the university, who has worked on global health threats including Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)-1, bird flu, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), Ebola, Lassa fever, and plague.

Horby said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has shown us that spectacular advances are possible through an alliance of science, the public sector and industry – creating digital disease control tools, diagnostic tests, and life-saving treatments and vaccines at unprecedented speed.”

He added: “But it should not take a pandemic to make this happen. This level of innovation and multi-sectoral collaboration must be applied, day in and day out, to prevent another catastrophe like Covid-19.”

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