Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine awarded £4.7 million to establish a new Human Challenge Facility, for infectious disease research

News article 2 Feb 2023

LiverpoolSchool of Tropical Medicine (LSTM) is celebrating being awarded £4.7 million in funding from the Research England Development (RED) Fund. LSTM has been given the money to help set up an in-patient human challenge facility (HCF) at its newly purchased Accelerator Building, based in Liverpool’s Knowledge Quarter. This complements an award of £2M to the HCF from The Pandemic Institute, a unique collaboration in Liverpool between academic, civic and health service partners.

The 12-bed isolation HCF will enable LSTM to expand its existing experimental research in infection - specifically around unique human challenge models, which uses human volunteers to test vaccine and drug safety and efficacy. LSTM’s HCF will become the largest academic in-patient human challenge isolation facility in the UK, working in partnership with the Liverpool University Hospitals Foundation Trust and The University of Liverpool to increase national capacity for human infection research.

Reflecting on the news, Director of LSTM, David Lalloo, said: “As LSTM celebrates its 125th anniversary, this is an exciting opportunity to forge ahead with our ambitions for the next 125 years. The HCF will act as a catalyst to the delivery and development of new treatments and vaccines, so we can continue to have a global impact in infection treatment and control. This cutting-edge facility will act as a focal point for the development of new technologies to prevent, diagnose, and treat diseases, bringing together innovative industries and academics from across the country.”

Human challenge research involves intentionally giving participants an infection in a controlled environment with appropriate healthcare support. It is a faster, more cost-effective way of assessing the efficacy and safety of new vaccines and therapeutics. Challenge models can potentially speed up product development and approval by 2-4 years.

The demand and need for access to human challenge models, by both academic and commercial sectors, has been clearly demonstrated throughout the COVID pandemic.

The HCF builds on over a decade of experience and success on human challenge studies by the Liverpool Vaccine Group led by Prof Daniela Ferreira and Dr Andrea Collins at LSTM. The Group also supported the development of the Oxford Astra Zeneca Covid 19 vaccine trial, with Liverpool the largest trial site outside Oxford.   

Director of The Pandemic Institute, Professor Tom Solomon said: “This is wonderful news that we now have the funding needed for the development of this new facility. The Pandemic Institute’s mission is to tackle emerging infections and future pandemic threats. Through the new HCF, we can develop new and improved diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines against a range of viruses and bacteria, working with academic and commercial partners. The creation of the HCF underscores Liverpool’s commitment to research, development, and innovation.”

Janet Hemingway, Founding Director of the Infection Innovation Consortium (iiCON), a LSTM-based collaboration which works with industry to bring new therapeutics to market, said: “We are delighted the RED funding will allow expansion of the existing HCF facilities, increasing the scope and scale of the trials undertaken in the unit”. iiCON are directly funding expansion of the unit’s activity to include a challenge model for multi-drug resistant tuberculosis, alongside support for commercialisation of the unit’s activity.

The HCF project builds on two decades of investment in human challenge studies at LSTM. The cutting-edge facility will feature HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filtration and negative air pressure, to enable studies with high-consequence pathogens like SARS-Cov2, TB, and other emerging pathogens. The facility will also feature containment level 3 laboratories and a pharmacy. The HCF provides increased opportunities for postgraduate research and study, creating new opportunities for development of a highly skilled workforce operating within an open, collaborative research culture.