iiCON welcomes the UK Government's urgent call to action on pandemic preparedness

Blog 29 Jun 2021
iiCON Director, Professor Janet Hemingway

This summer, the UK Government reaffirmed its commitment to accelerating innovation to combat future pandemics - announcing its support for the ambitions outlined in the 100 Days Mission report at the G7 Health Ministers’ Meeting.

This ambitious pandemic preparedness roadmap aims to protect against future pandemic threats and reduce the time it takes to develop and deploy new diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines to 100 days after a new pandemic threat is identified.

As the world grapples with the devastating impact of COVID-19, the need for the global community to come together to tackle the broader infectious disease challenge, has never been more urgent. 

This landmark commitment to deeper collaboration between government and industry is a hugely welcome statement of intent. It rightly puts knowledge sharing and co-innovation centre-stage in the global battle to combat emerging pandemics and infectious disease.

A clear recognition of the need for impactful collaboration to drive innovation and revitalise the global anti-infectives pipeline has been central to the Infection Innovation Consortium (iiCON) since it was formed in 2020.

Led by LSTM, iiCON brings together the UK’s leading public and private organisations focused in infectious disease R&D, including Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Unilever UK, the University of Liverpool, and Evotec and Infex Therapeutics, based at Alderley Park, Cheshire.

Formed in 2020 in response to the growing infectious disease challenge, our £173 million programme is backed by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Strength in Places funding and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).  We are leveraging regional expertise and capability to accelerate the development of innovative treatments, revitalise the global anti-infectives pipeline, and reduce the global burden of disease.

The consortium’s model has been highlighted as an exemplar public-private-philanthropic partnership for pandemic preparedness by the Milken Institute’s FasterCures report into pandemic preparedness, ‘A Global Early Warning System for Pandemics’. iiCON is also a FIND and WHO accredited centre for diagnostic validation.

We are already responding to the Government’s urgent call for the accelerated development of new anti-infectives and are transforming roadblocks in the infectious disease R&D pipeline. We want to radically accelerate the R&D pathway for drugs, vaccines, diagnostics and public health interventions to combat critical priority areas including emerging pandemics and antimicrobial resistance.

The 100 Days Mission report advises that new therapeutics, vaccines and diagnostics against potential future pathogens should be part-developed before the next pandemic starts. This requires sustained innovation and collaboration between large and small companies, academic and medical researchers, regulators, and global health bodies.

Our open access platforms are already working to support these ambitions – enabling catalytic collaborations that are supporting the development of the next generation of anti-infectives that will play a role in combating future pandemics.

Combining cutting-edge chemical, biological, clinical, engineering, and digital technology, programmes are already active in vaccines, drugs, antibiotics, diagnostics, and personal hygiene products – with nine platforms designed to accelerate innovation.

Crucially, all nine of our platforms are open access – with the capability and flexibility to support companies from the smallest spin-out to giant multinationals. This accessibility is key to enabling and supporting the innovation that flourishes within smaller, more nimble companies operating in extremely challenging, high-risk low reward markets with high failure rates.

We know, for example, that start-ups and SMEs are responsible for 75% of all late-stage antibiotics in the R&D pipeline – but without the right support, a huge number of these businesses will fail or run out of funding before their products get to market.

We are currently collaborating with 64 local companies, with 120 businesses within our wider network. The rich, connected, collaborative ecosystem we have developed enables innovation to thrive and supports companies to discover, develop, and market the drugs, diagnostics, and vaccines of the future.

Speed of response is also critical when dealing with rapidly evolving and complex infectious diseases. iiCON’s platforms are designed to pivot swiftly to handle any infectious disease. This capability was demonstrated during the global COVID pandemic – with four iiCON platforms switching their capability to contribute to global prevention and treatment programmes and bring products to market in record time.

The multi-headed hydra of infectious diseases, emerging pandemics, and multi-drug resistant infections requires a joined-up global approach. We need to pool international capability and resources, bringing together industry, governments, international organisations and academia to innovate and revitalise our ailing infectious disease pipeline.

We welcome the Government’s urgent call to action. We look forward to working with our partners and platforms towards a common goal of reducing the global burden of infectious disease and taking steps to protect the global community from emerging pandemics.