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Advancing European Research Infrastcuture on Highly Pathogenic Agents

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ERINHA-Advance (Advancing European Research Infrastcuture on Highly Pathogenic Agents)

Reporting period: 2019-01-01 to 2020-06-30

In 2008, the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI) 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 ERINHA through the H2020-funded ERINHA-Advance project are to ensure its successful operation and develop a strategy for its long term sustainability. To this end, ERINHA and its partners have been focusing since January 2019 on specific actions on different topics as described in the following section.
Note: The Covid 19 pandemic has heavily impacted ERINHA Advance’s activities since February 2020 (M14), mostly due to the prioritization of SARS CoV 2 research at the partners’ facilities.
Expanding ERINHA membership and international cooperation
One of the biggest successes of the first period is the finalization of the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven’s associate membership in February 2020. The Medical University of Graz is currently preparing its accession.
With regards to cooperation, links with initiatives such as CEPI, GLOPID-R, EVAg and ECRAID were reinforced and ERINHA signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the European Vaccine Initiative. Moreover, relevant facilities in Central & Eastern Europe (CEE), but also outside Europe (South Africa, Australia, USA), have been mapped and approached for future collaborations.

ERINHA’s pilot trans-national access activities
ERINHA-Advance focuses on the provision of high quality research services to the scientific community through TransNational Access (TNA) programmes dedicated to HID. Participants developed all the tools and documents required to launch a call for proposals, evaluate the applications and prepare for the provision of ERINHA’s services. The partners defined the scientific scope of the TNA programme as well as the rules guiding the evaluation process, and developed specific guidelines with all the information necessary to prepare an application. The first call for proposals was launched on 15 October 2019, and resulted in the selection of two projects. Moreover, a special emergency call for proposals dedicated to SARS CoV 2 and Covid 19 research launched on 27 May 2020 to contribute to the fight against the pandemic (1).

Unlocking the innovation potential of the research infrastructure
Here, the main objectives are to create a sustainable collaboration with the industrial sector and initiate innovative pilot projects with industrial partners. To this end, steps were taken to set up a Board of Industrial Representatives (BIR) to help ERINHA develop a strategy for engaging with the private sector. Four companies have agreed to join the BIR so far, and the kick-off of the Board is planned to be held virtually. In addition, subcontractor Alcimed has initiated the update of ERINHA’s business plan and already delivered a draft list of new key private players with interest in research on highly infectious pathogens. Finally, advocacy and outreach actions, including a virtual partnering event and dissemination through relevant contact lists, contributed to increase the visibility of ERINHA’s services for industrial players. This resulted in several requests for high containment services from SMEs.

Strengthening the framework of ERINHA’s services
ERINHA-Advance aims to ensure the high quality and sustainability of ERINHA services by implementing a quality management system, an effective intellectual and property rights (IPR) policy, an ethical framework and a comprehensive data management plan. A Quality Management Working Group was established to review the Quality Management Systems in place at ERINHA partner facilities and develop a proposed Quality Management System for ERINHA. The contracting mechanisms necessary for service provision, as well as an IPR policy, have been drafted to be reviewed by all ERINHA members. A User Handbook and a set of Ethical Guidelines are ready for publication.

Capacity building & Communication
One of the main goals here is to develop training opportunities for ERINHA’s staff and for the scientific community. The CCU contacted the H2020 funded RItrain project for staff exchange and participated in the RI staff workshop. The development of the scientific training programme for future users is ongoing. The Lugar Center of Public Health Research in Tbilisi, Georgia, has shown high interest in this activity. In addition, during the first period of ERINHA-Advance, partners developed the Dissemination and Outreach plan, which defines ERINHA’s target communities and the key messages of the infrastructure. In accordance with this plan, several actions were conducted to increase ERINHA’s visibility:
- Sections dedicated to ERINHA-Advance and the TNA programme were developed on the ERINHA website.
- ERINHA Newsletter and Flashnews were disseminated to a broad list of stakeholders and published on the website.
- The CCU staff and partners communicated about ERINHA in several conferences (e.g. UN BTWC in Geneva, European Congress of Virology in Rotterdam, among others).
- Promotional tools were developed and distributed in relevant events.
(1) Specific task added to WP3 in the framework of the amendment request under preparation.
The recent outbreaks of Ebola and Zika viruses, and of course the current Covid 19 pandemic, clearly demonstrate how real the globalization of HID is, and how vulnerable and unprepared for them the world is. Coordinated and prompt access to a large variety of high containment research capacities is therefore required to prevent and respond to such threats. ERINHA is the only research infrastructure of its kind in Europe; it therefore meets a critical need and contributes to bringing the EU to the forefront of research excellence, competitiveness and preparedness. The broad range of ERINHA activities gives researchers lacking access to appropriate capacities the opportunity to advance research on HID. More particularly, the actions led by ERINHA in CEE countries are helping develop expertise and foster capacity building, for a more balanced and better prepared European Research Area. Moreover, it is expected that ERINHA’s endeavor to engage with private partners and tailor the catalogue of services based on their needs will increase the innovation capacity of the HID field. It may also create new market opportunities for private partners by providing them with access to previously unavailable capacities, which should strengthen their competitiveness and growth. Altogether, the accomplishments from ERINHA-Advance should help the research infrastructure progress in completing its mission of fostering research in the field of HID and developing medical countermeasures to fight or even anticipate future dangerous outbreaks.