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Science, Innovation and Technology Committee – Emerging diseases and learnings from COVID-19

By January 31, 2024No Comments

During the first session of the Science, Innovation and Technology Committee on Emerging diseases and learnings from COVID-19, MPs heard from:

  • Dr Sergio Carmona, Chief Medical Officer and Interim CEO, FIND
  • Dr In-Kyu Yoon, Acting Executive Director of Vaccine Research and Development, CEPI

Key takeaways

  • The Science, Innovation and Technology Committee’s session coincides with the International Pandemic Preparedness Secretariat launch of its third annual report on the 100 Days Mission for pandemic preparedness in Rome today.
  • On progress to the 100 Days Mission, Dr In-Kyu Yoon said the UK has played an important role in this space – the initiative having been launched under the UK’s 2021 G7 presidency.
  • However, both Dr Yoon and Dr Sergio Carmona concurred that the UK could play a more leadership role in this space.

Summary

Conservative Committee Chair Greg Clark asked Dr Yoon to describe the role of CEPI in the 100 Days mission.

Dr In-Kyu Yoon, Acting Executive Director of Vaccine Research and Development at CEPI, said CEPI was formed in 2017 in response to the Ebola pandemic, so the role of CEPI was to fill the gap in that vaccine development area. The 100 Days mission aims to accelerate as much as possible vaccine and biologics development in response to epidemic and pandemic threats – mission which CEPI champions.

Chair Greg Clark asked Dr Carmona what FIND’s role is in achieving a more rapid response to future pandemics.

Dr Sergio Carmona, Chief Medical Officer and Interim CEO at FIND said FIND had started 20 years ago, mostly focusing on infectious diseases like TB, malaria and neglected tropical diseases. He added that FIND was part of the Ebola response and critical to the covid one.

Dr Carmona said in diagnostics, the 100 Days mission is a much more achievable target. However, he noted that producing diagnostic tools at scale and ensuring they are regulatory approved is an area that could be improved.

Labour MP Rebecca Long-Bailey asked what major lessons were learnt from the global response to the covid pandemic.

Dr In-Kyu Yoon said the pandemic further emphasised the importance of preparedness. In particular it also demonstrated the scale of manufacturing that is needed and also the required diversity of some of the knowledge, capabilities and capacities.

Dr Sergio Carmona said coordination and communication were very important factors in the global response to the pandemic.

Rebecca Long-Bailey asked how prepared the world is for disease X and what more countries can do to reach the 100 Days mission.

Dr In-Kyu Yoon said the UK has been important already, the 100 Days Mission having been launched under the UK’s 2021 G7 presidency. He added the UK can play a more leadership role by championing the messaging, ensuring resources are in place and engaging with institutions to lead in some of those areas.

On preparedness for disease X, Dr Yoon said that the UK is far more prepared today than before the covid pandemic, but there is still more work to be done in this area.

Dr Sergio Carmona agreed that more can be done to be more prepared for future threats.

Conservative MP Dr James Davies asked what the main challenges are in developing diagnostics or vaccines in preparation for the next pandemic.

Dr In-Kyu Yoon said global coordination is critical.

Dr James Davies asked if there is a particular vaccine technology platform that is better suited to targeting disease X than others.

Dr In-Kyu Yoon said rapid response platforms are best suited to targeting disease X and noted that mRNA has been shown to have a lot of characteristics that would support that rapid response technology role. Dr Yoon added that the adenovirus vector platform produced at Oxford and developed by AstraZeneca is another one of note.

Dr Sergio Carmona said the principle is the same for diagnostics.

Dr James Davies asked how global cooperation across Government, academia and business can best be achieved.

Dr Sergio Carmona said the role that WHO and the G7 have is critical, and a pandemic treaty would allow countries to be better prepared at a global level.

Dr James Davies asked if sufficient funding and resources are going into diagnostics to achieve the 100 Days mission.

Dr Sergio Carmona said there could be improvements in both areas.

Conservative MP Stephen Metcalfe asked what alternative frameworks there are to the traditional intellectual property innovation model to incentivise the scaling up during the pandemic.

Dr In-Kyu Yoon said a lot of that has to happen before a pandemic occurs but suggested that publicly funded efforts may have some requirements to have equitable access features built in.

Dr Sergio Carmona said for diagnostics, IP is less of a deal breaker.

Labour MP Graham Stringer asked what better regulatory structure means in practice.

Dr In-Kyu Yoon said it is CEPIs role to maximise the amount of evidence that is available so that decisions can be made about new regulatory pathways when the time comes.

 

During the second session of the Science, Innovation and Technology Committee on Emerging diseases and learnings from covid-19, MPs heard from:

  • Professor Dame Anna Dominiczak, Chief Scientist, Health Scotland
  • Professor Chris Molloy, CEO, Medicines Discovery Catapult
  • Dr Robert Howes, Head of Discovery Sciences UK, Charles River Laboratories

Key takeaways

  • The second session of the Committee’s inquiry on emerging diseases and learnings from the pandemic focused on the UK’s ability to scale up its diagnostic capabilities.
  • The session takes place in the context of the leasehold of the Rosalind Franklin covid Laboratory in Leamington Spa being put up for sale on Rightmove.
  • The general consensus among witnesses was that its sale presents a missed opportunity for the Government’s future scientific capabilities.
  • Professor Chris Molloy stressed the importance of being able to rapidly respond to the next threat, disease X.

Summary

Conservative Committee Chair Greg Clark asked what the concept behind the Lighthouse Laboratory Programme was.

Professor Chris Molloy, CEO at Medicines Discovery Catapult said it came from the DHSC plan to respond to the pandemic – using industrial trial thinking, quality and action to provide augmentation to the NHS.

Chair Greg Clark asked whether it would be right to keep that physical testing capacity.

Professor Chris Molloy said they built capacity as they went, and the Rosalind Franklin was a big part of that physical capacity. Professor Molloy stressed the importance of keeping that available space available just in case future circumstances require it.

Labour MP Dawn Butler asked what the important things are for the next “war”.

Professor Dame Anna Dominiczak, Chief Scientist at Health Scotland, said disease X will likely be an infective agent and, therefore, will require a large-scale, speedy operation. Therefore, the ability to scale up will be essential.

Dr Robert Howes, Head of Discovery Sciences UK at Charles River Laboratories said one of the biggest challenges is making the logistic side more compatible with the operation in the laboratory.

Dr Howes added that the 100 Days response is all about speed, scale and access and would help solve some of these problems.

Conservative MP Stephen Metcalfe asked what else needs to be put in place to ensure testing facilities are set up faster than before.

Professor Chris Molloy said it would have been easier to marshal resources if there was better oversight of industry resources.

Professor Dame Anna Dominiczak said there needs to be a central bringing together of resources.

Stephen Metcalfe asked if UKHSA is the right agency to approach this.

Professor Dame Anna Dominiczak said there needs to be UK-wide leadership, and that is the agency which is currently doing this.

Conservative MP Dr James Davies asked if UKHSA has a formal remit to take a lead or is a formal agreement.

Professor Dame Anna Dominiczak said there is very close collaboration across the four nations, a form of co-production.

Dr James Davies asked if the Lighthouse Laboratories had not been decommissioned to the extent that it has, what could it be used for.

Professor Chris Molloy said the more that diagnostics can be enabled in the home and the high street, the better people can act on their health.

Dr James Davies asked what measures could have enhanced the lasting impact of the pandemic in terms of diagnostics.

Professor Chris Molloy said rapid diagnostics has enhanced diagnostic capacity on the home and the high street during the pandemic. Professor Molloy highlighted the opportunity this creates in other areas.

Conservative MP Tracey Crouch asked what the intended long-term plan for the RFL was.

Dr Robert Howes said the primary plan was to meet the response for covid and then find a future use for the facility.

Professor Dame Anna Dominiczak said the main aim was to increase the capacity capability. On legacy, Professor Dominiczak said it became evident there should be a focus on prevention.

Tracey Crouch asked whether legacy plans were integrated into the setup and development of the site.

Professor Dame Anna Dominiczak reiterated her prior comments.

Tracey Crouch asked what Professor Dominiczak’s reaction was when she found out the facility was up for sale on Rightmove.

Professor Dame Anna Dominiczak said it was one missed opportunity.

Tracey Crouch asked why witnesses believe the Government no longer sees the RFL as an investment in the UK’s scientific capabilities for the future.

Professor Chris Molloy said he does not have any insight into Government thinking on this but stressed the importance of ensuring the UK retains its diagnostic capabilities to meet future demand when it may arise.

SNP MP Carol Monaghan asked if the UK would have the availability for a fast-switch report without the RFL.

Professor Chris Molloy said he does not know how they will fight the next pandemic; however, the UK is better prepared than it was during the covid pandemic to mobilise. Nevertheless, Professor Molloy recommended that having access to reagents, like RFL, would make a big difference in the speed to which the UK can mobilise.

Dawn