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Advancing European Research Infrastcuture on Highly Pathogenic Agents

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - ERINHA-Advance (Advancing European Research Infrastcuture on Highly Pathogenic Agents)

Reporting period: 2020-07-01 to 2021-12-31

In 2008, the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures identified a critical need for a coordinated European high containment research capacity due to the (re¬ ) emergence and globalization of highly infectious diseases (HID). After two EU funded preparatory phases, the European Research Infrastructure on Highly pathogenic Agents (ERINHA) was set up in July 2017 as an international non-profit association under Belgian law, with its registered offices in Brussels, a Central Coordinating Unit (CCU) in Paris, and members throughout Europe.
High containment facilities to perform and advance research on HID are rare and costly resources. ERINHA offers the whole scientific community high containment services, including access to these facilities, expertise and training, and coordinates research on high consequence agents.
The main objectives of the ERINHA-Advance project are to ensure ERINHA’s successful operation and develop a strategy for its long term sustainability through specific actions described in the following section.
Expanding ERINHA membership and international cooperation
ERINHA welcomed 4 new members: Erasmus MC (NL), KU Leuven (BE), MUG (AT), ISCIII (ES) and is preparing the accession of 3 additional high-containment facilities from the UK, Italy and South Africa. ERINHA also became an Observer member of GloPID-R, joined the Centralized Laboratory Network of CEPI, and reinforced its relations with WHO and its BioHub initiative. Links with European initiatives were further reinforced through the structuring of a European epidemic research infrastructure and coordination of the ISIDORe project. Memorandums of Understanding were signed with the European Vaccine Initiative, INRAE as well as ESFRI Life-Sciences Research Infrastructures. Moreover, new cooperation opportunities were created with facilities and initiatives in Central & Eastern Europe and Africa. Overall, it is expected that the new international strategy developed during the project will continue to help increase ERINHA’s visibility.

ERINHA’s pilot trans-national access activities
ERINHA Advance aims at providing free of charge transnational access (TNA) to high quality research services to scientists with projects dedicated to HID. After selecting five (5) user projects during the first period, most of the work of the second period was dedicated to the implementation of these projects by ERINHA Advance’s access providers. Two projects will ultimately advance research on Risk Group 4 (RG4) pathogens, with outcomes expected in the field of i) Nipah virus pathophysiology, and ii) vaccine development against filo and arenaviruses, including Ebola, Marburg and Lassa viruses respectively. The three other projects are dedicated to SARS CoV 2 and will impact i) diagnostics and ii) therapeutics development. Thanks to the 6 month extension of the project, all these projects will be finalised and a final impact driven TNA programme is being conducted to support additional SARS CoV 2 projects.

Unlocking the innovation potential of the research infrastructure
ERINHA set up Board of Industrial Representatives to gather their recommendations and tailor the infrastructure’s activities targeting the private sector. A mapping of new private players with interest in research on HID was performed to identify new potential users and ERINHA’s Business Plan was updated. A successful Industry and SME forum enabled users from the private sector to share their experience. ERINHA’s long term Strategy and Action Plan towards Industry was developed. Co-innovation projects opportunities for high-containment laboratories were identified and will be further developed under new funding opportunities. Finally, advocacy and outreach actions, including co-sponsoring the World Vaccine Congress Europe in October 2020, as well as dissemination activities at relevant events, contributed to increase the visibility of ERINHA’s services for private players.

Strengthening the framework of ERINHA’s services
To ensure the quality and sustainability of ERINHA services, the legal framework of the infrastructure (Service Legal Agreement and IPR Policy) was developed during the first period and approved by the members. The ethical guidelines of ERINHA and data management framework were also consolidated. In addition, and after analysing the results of a survey conducted by the Quality Management Working Group, the feasibility of implementing a common Quality Management System (QMS) for all ERINHA member facilities was reassessed. ERINHA’s approach with regard to QM was consequently redirected towards the Central Coordinating Unit (CCU), which will draft its Management Handbook in the upcoming months. Finally, a survey, that is under finalisation and meant to monitor the satisfaction of ERINHA’s users, will provide valuable information for designing the next steps of ERINHA’s QM strategy and continuously improving the service offer.

Capacity building & Communication
While Covid 19 related travel restrictions have significantly impacted ERINHA’s ability to implement capacity building actions, the CCU and most of the project’s partners took advantage of multiple online training opportunities provided by various EC funded actions and the EC itself, with a focus on communication trainings and Horizon Europe related webinars. In addition, the project could finally test a pilot in person training programme under the lead of ERINHA’s Hungarian member, NNK. This experience will be the basis for further developing ERINHA training services.
In terms of communication, the tools and the Dissemination and Outreach Plan developed during the first period were continuously used to increase the visibility of ERINHA, its services and TNA calls (website was re designed to make it more user friendly; newsletters and flashnews were regularly disseminated; the CCU and ERINHA Advance’s partners communicated in multiple events, etc.).
The outbreaks of the 21st century, from SARS, Ebola and Zika, to the current Covid 19 pandemic, demonstrate how vulnerable and unprepared to HID the world really is. Coordinated and prompt access to high containment research capacities is required to prevent and respond to such threats. Being the only research infrastructure of its kind in Europe, ERINHA meets a critical need and contributes to bringing the EU to the forefront of research excellence, competitiveness and preparedness. The broad range of ERINHA’s activities gives researchers that have no access to appropriate capacities the opportunity to advance their research on HID. Furthermore, the actions led by ERINHA in Europe help develop expertise and build capacities, for a more balanced and better prepared European Research Area. In addition, ERINHA’s engagement with private partners should increase the innovation capacity of the HID field and create new market opportunities by providing industrial actors with access to previously unavailable capacities. By consolidating the sustainability and operations of the infrastructure, the accomplishments of the ERINHA-Advance project have been contributing to make ERINHA progress with completing its mission of fostering research in the field of HID, and creating new complementary opportunities (e.g. ISIDORe project) to improve preparedness and responsiveness to future outbreaks.