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Secretariat for the International Research Consortium on Animal Health

Periodic Reporting for period 4 - SIRCAH (Secretariat for the International Research Consortium on Animal Health)

Reporting period: 2020-10-01 to 2021-09-30

Animal diseases can cause serious social, economic and environmental damage, impact on animal welfare and directly threaten human health. These diseases are not restricted by borders so an increasing number of the major disease problems or threats faced by the livestock industry are of a global nature. Global challenges need global solutions and these can only be achieved in the required timeframe through a common and coordinated international research effort. Research on infectious diseases of animals is poorly funded compared to the human equivalent despite 60% of all human infectious diseases and around 75% of emerging infectious diseases being zoonotic. However, more could be achieved, even with the current level of investment, through the coordination of this research effort and the sharing of results.

Livestock provides one third of human protein intake and are an important source of income in many Low- and Middle-Income Countries (LMIC). Therefore, it is essential to work collaboratively to develop new control methods for those diseases common to countries around the world, in order to protect food security and the livestock industries while mitigating the risk to public health from zoonoses and the environment impact associated with animal production. The global animal health market is worth over $47 billion dollars and endemic diseases have significant cost implications for livestock owners, with endemic diseases considered to cause a 20% reduction in livestock productivity. New disease control strategies that reduce the impact of disease will also reduce the environmental footprint (including that from greenhouse gas emissions) of livestock production.

Building on the EU-funded STAR-IDAZ network, the International Research Consortium (IRC) was launched in January 2016 with partners agreeing to coordinate their research programmes to address identified research needs, share results and deliver new and improved animal health strategies for at least 30 priority diseases, infections or issues. The deliverables including candidate vaccines, diagnostics, therapeutics and other animal health products, procedures and key scientific information and tools to support risk analysis and disease control.

The IRC has been supported by the EU-funded secretariat and a Scientific Committee of 16 experts since October 2016. The overall objective of Secretariat for the International Research Consortium on Animal Health (SIRCAH) is to facilitate the STAR-IDAZ IRC achieve its objectives by providing organisational, communication and technical support to the Consortium and its various members. To achieve the goals of the IRC, Working Groups (WGs) have been established on priority topics, consisting of researchers and experts. Guided by the Scientific Committee and with the assistance of SIRCAH, the WGs are conducting gap analyses which are then organised into research roadmaps. The details of current research projects are mapped onto these roadmaps in order to determine the level of activity underway to address them.
When the STAR-IDAZ IRC was launched in early 2016, it had 18 members from 11 countries with representatives from each member organisation forming the Executive Committee. The membership of the IRC has increased to 28 partners from 19 countries, including one International research organisation (ILRI), the European Commission, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and three industry bodies with a combined five-year budget of over $2.5billion for research in the area of the IRC. Discussions are ongoing with several organisations about potentially joining the IRC. The more partners in the IRC, the more research funding we can coordinate and focus and the more information on research activities we will have access to. This will mean the IRC can have a larger, more focused and so more effective impact.

In order to focus funding and efforts to the identified research priorities, research roadmaps are being developed for each priority disease or issue. Starting with the desired outcome, which is often a target product profile (TPP), these roadmaps lay out the research questions that need to be addressed working back from translational research gaps to the more basic science knowledge gaps. The roadmaps are based on ‘Leads’ which consider the i) Research Questions (“What is the problem we are trying to solve?”), ii) Challenges (“What are the scientific and technological challenges or knowledge gaps that need to be address?”), iii) Solution Routes (“What approaches could and should be taken to address the Research Questions?”), iv) Dependencies (“What needs to be done before we can solve this?”) and v) State of the Art, which includes the existing knowledge including the successes and failures.

These roadmaps are made available on a publicly accessible IT platform, where ongoing and planned research projects are linked to the Challenges associated with each Lead. This allows SIRCAH to assess the extent to which the Challenges are being addressed so focus can be placed on those areas that still require attention. Working collaboratively with the Scientific Committee and the WGs, SIRCAH have developed, published and validated roadmaps for priority topics including bovine tuberculosis, Brucellosis, African Swine Fever, Foot and Mouth Disease and helminths parasite infections.
The research roadmaps provide a way of visualising complex problems, while clearly showing the knowledge gaps that need addressing and highlighting which projects must be developed to create practical solutions. When first developing disease specific research roadmaps, it became clear that there were common features across different diseases. This allowed the development of generic roadmaps on vaccine development, diagnostic development, therapeutics and the development of disease controls strategies. The creation and function of these roadmaps was described in a paper written by a member of the Scientific Committee, with the support of SIRCAH, titled ‘Construction of generic roadmaps for the strategic coordination of global research into infectious diseases of animals and zoonoses’ was published in the peer-reviewed journal, Transboundary and Emerging Diseases in September 2020.

Previous, ongoing and planned research projects are linked to the relevant research roadmaps, which allows SIRCAH to prioritise research gaps to be addressed and make recommendations to the IRC Executive Committee of funding bodies on where resources are most needed and influential. SIRCAH is working towards having comprehensive research roadmaps for all the priority topics available on the website, this will serve as an invaluable tool for directing research efforts and funding by the IRC Executive Committee, other funding organisations and the research community. Improving the focus of research on the priority topics should speed up the development of control strategies, resulting in improved animal health and welfare while improving returns on research investment. Additionally, it is intended that this platform will continue to be available, utilised and updated beyond the life of the project.
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