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Advancing European Research Infrastcuture on Highly Pathogenic Agents

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - ERINHA-Advance (Advancing European Research Infrastructure on Highly Pathogenic Agents)

Reporting period: 2022-01-01 to 2022-06-30

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 high containment services to the whole scientific community, 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 to develop a strategy for its long-term sustainability through specific actions described in the following sections.
Expanding ERINHA membership and international cooperation
ERINHA welcomed 6 new members: Erasmus MC (NL), KU Leuven (BE), MUG (AT), ISCIII (ES), University of Oxford (UK) and INMI (IT). ERINHA became an observer member of the GloPID-R network, 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 (Integrated Services for Infectious Disease Outbreak Research). Memorandums of Understanding were signed with the European Vaccine Initiative, INRAE, and the ESFRI Life Sciences Research Infrastructures. Moreover, new cooperation opportunities were created with facilities and initiatives in Central and Eastern Europe, and in Africa. Overall, it is expected that the new international strategy developed during the ERINHA-Advance project will continue to 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 six (6) user projects, most of the work of the third period was dedicated to the completion of these projects by ERINHA Advance’s service 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 filoviruses and arenaviruses, including Ebola, Marburg and Lassa viruses, respectively. The four 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 were completed or have significantly progressed. The ERINHA-Advance laboratories offered to complete the unfinished work through in-kind contributions.

Unlocking the innovation potential of the research infrastructure
ERINHA has set up a Board of Industrial Representatives to tailor the infrastructure’s activities targeting the private sector. A mapping of new private players with interest in research on HID was performed, outreach actions undertaken and ERINHA’s Business Plan dedicated section was updated. A successful Industry and SME forum enabled users from the private sector to share their experience following access to ERINHA services. 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 2020, as well as dissemination activities at relevant events, contributed to increase the visibility of ERINHA’s services for private players. All this work was performed during the first two periods of the project.

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 unanimously 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 to monitor the satisfaction of ERINHA’s users, was conducted with part of the users of the ERINHA-Advance TNA programmes. It provided valuable information for designing the next steps of ERINHA’s QM strategy and continuously improving the service offer. The other users will be surveyed when their TNA projects are close to completion.

Capacity building & Communication
While the travel restrictions caused by the pandemic 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 flash news were regularly disseminated, etc.).
The outbreaks of the 21st century, from the Ebola and Zika viruses, to the current SARS-CoV-2-related pandemic and monkeypox outbreak, 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 and worldwide, ERINHA meets a critical need in HID research, and contributes to bringing the EU to the forefront of research excellence, competitiveness and preparedness. In addition, the actions led by ERINHA help develop expertise and build capacities, for a more balanced and better prepared European Research Area. In terms of innovation, ERINHA’s engagement with private partners aims at accelerating the development of medical countermeasures and create new market opportunities. By fostering cooperation, reinforcing its capacities, and consolidating the sustainability and operations of the infrastructure, the accomplishments of the ERINHA-Advance project have contributed to ERINHA’s mission of advancing research in the field of HID, and have created new opportunities (e.g. ISIDORe project) to improve preparedness and responsiveness to future outbreaks.