The University of Oxford’s Pandemic Sciences Institute (PSI) has been formally launched at a two-day event at the Blavatnik School of Government, at which the lead researchers set out its direction and strategy for the next five years.
The Institute will harness the University’s research excellence as well as its global research collaborations and partnerships developed over decades between academia, industry and governments – many of whom were represented at the PSI launch, including Dr Jenny Harries and Patrick Vallance.
It will draw together academics and experts from across the University to build a multi-disciplinary institute focused on reducing the risk from infectious threats through science, innovation and building global preparedness.
The PSI’s underlying mission will be to create collaborative solutions to infectious disease threats, bringing together fundamental and translational research to improve global health and enhance real-world capabilities to respond to future outbreaks.
Speaking at the launch, Professor Sir Peter Horby, Moh Family Foundation Professor of Emerging Infections and Director of the Pandemic Sciences Institute, said: ‘During the COVID pandemic, diagnostic tests, drugs and vaccines were developed and deployed at speeds that were previously unthinkable, and we benefited from remarkable insights into epidemiology, biology and behaviour in near real time.
‘The Pandemic Sciences Institute aims to make such exceptional achievements routine and ensure the benefits are shared by all. We believe that we can make the world a safer place for everyone by uniting disciplines and sectors to tackle complex infectious disease threats together.’
Other speakers at the event included Dame Sarah Gilbert, Saïd Professor of Vaccinology, and Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, Director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, who discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic had a positive impact on collaborative efforts to develop a vaccine against the disease, and what the future holds for overall vaccine development.
Professor Miles Carroll, Head of High Consequence Emerging Viruses, explained why understanding pathogens is important in developing both non-pharmaceutical and pharmaceutical interventions, as well as how partnerships with national and international organisations as well as low- to middle-income countries are key to containing dangerous pathogens.
The importance of embedding programmes of research in ethics, social and behavioural sciences, and the wider humanities to effective pandemic preparedness and response was discussed by Professor Michael Parker, Director of the Ethox Centre, who also expounded upon the important lessons learnt during the COVID-19 pandemic and from recent experiences in Zika and Ebola.
Sir Dave Stuart, MRC Professor of Structural Biology, spoke about the strength in depth of tools accelerating the discovery of new therapeutics that can target viruses with pandemic potential.
Christophe Fraser, Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, discussed what is involved in preventing pandemics, how data sciences can increase the chances of success, and the challenges involved, including deciding which outbreaks to focus on, the importance of early analytics, and community engagement.