The Imperial Network for Vaccine Research (INVaR) officially launched in October with a guest lecture from Dr Richard Hatchett, CEO of CEPI.
The full-day event also featured presentations from senior Imperial leaders, breakout sessions for industrial collaboration and junior career researchers, and scientific presentations from medics, biologists, chemical engineers, epidemiologists and health economists.
"I don’t think it’s whether we can (prevent epidemics), I think it’s whether as a society we make the choice to do so." Dr Richard Hatchett CEO, Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI)
Formed earlier this year, the Imperial Network for Vaccine Research (INVaR) is led by Dr Chris Chiu from the Department of Medicine, who said: “Our goal in forming INVaR was to foster interdisciplinary research which we feel is absolutely critical for overcoming some of the remaining big hurdles in delivering effective vaccines today and into the future."
Professor Jonathan Weber, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, opened the day by emphasizing how close to his own heart this area of work is: “I have spent the last 35 years of my career trying desperately to make a vaccine against an intractable infection (HIV).”
He continued: “I was immensely excited to see this cross-College gathering, together with so many external partners, to address something that is in such an exciting space at the moment, which is new vaccine development.”
Ending epidemics in our time
Dr Richard Hatchett, CEO of Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), delivered a lecture on ‘Ending epidemics in our time: CEPI and the role of vaccines’. In comparing today’s challenges of preventing outbreaks from becoming epidemics to those of combating famine, he suggested: “I don’t think it’s whether we can, I think it’s whether as a society we make the choice to do so.”
Speaking about the launch, Dr Hatchett said “We got to see a lot of exciting science today, from basic discovery work to behavioral economics, which this network can bring together to crack some of those nuts as an academic institution.
“I also think what was striking and encouraging to me was the focus on the industrial-academic partnership – something that can help address the ever-present challenge of translating academic discovery and innovation into clinical benefits.”
Engaging with industry
Over lunch attendees gathered for a session aimed at opening up the discussion about key areas for collaboration between industry and academia.
Dr Lisa Caproni (Group Leader, Touchlight Genetics), Dr Daria Donati (Director Innovation & Business Development, GE Healthcare Life Sciences), Dr Eddy Littler (Chief Executive Officer, ReViral Ltd), Dr Stephen Lockhart (Vice President, Vaccine Clinical R&D Europe and Asia-Pacific Head, Pfizer) and researchers from across the College discussed how they could work more effectively together.
Dr Caproni, said “It was exciting to get a feel for the breadth of vaccine research happening at Imperial, opening up future opportunities to engage with many of the groups involved in the launch.”
Discussing how she thought academia could benefit from industrial support, Dr Caproni added: “I believe the early adoption of industry standards for manufacturing and methods would enable smoother transition from research to the clinic. Industry also has unparalleled experience in clinical translation and the ability to leverage funding beyond Phase I.”
As one of a number of multidisciplinary networks of excellence set up at Imperial by Professor Nick Jennings, Vice Provost (Research and Enterprise), INVaR is an important part of the College’s strategy to tackle major research challenges.
Professor Alice Gast, President of Imperial, said: “It’s fantastic to have such a groundswell of engagement on this vital topic from across our medics, engineers, scientists and business faculty.
"This is perhaps the broadest group gathered yet: a testament to the importance of the subject.”
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