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European Research Infrastructure on Highly Pathogenic Agents

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European research infrastructure on highly pathogenic agents (ERINHA)

The ESFRI Roadmap of 2008 identified a critical need for an adequate and coordinated European BSL-4 capacity to enable the European Union to address the challenges posed by the emergence or re-emergence of highly pathogenic agents such as Nipah or Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever viruses or multi-drug resistant bacteria with unforeseen risks for the public health, the society and the economy.

Health

The EU-funded ERINHA (European research infrastructure on highly pathogenic agents) project engaged medical and biological scientists, national ministries, industries and funding entities to build research capacity and cooperation. Their ultimate goal was a pan-European open access research infrastructure (RI) to study and monitor the emergence of highly pathogenic infectious diseases as well as drug-resistant pathogens. Research on Risk Group 4 pathogens takes place in highly specialised, secure laboratories, classified as Biosafety Level 4 (BSL4) laboratories. There are seven of these in Europe and several measures were undertaken to increase coordination, resource management, training capacities and access. In addition, ERINHA provided a list of potential sites for building a new BSL4 laboratory, and developed financial and business plans to attract investment. They have already contacted funding agencies as well as representatives of Member States. Project members consulted various stakeholders and experts to determine best practices and address resource management, biosafety and biosecurity. They developed procedures, models and tools that define user requirements for BSL4 facilities, and successfully harmonised critical biosafety and personnel selection procedures as well as a training programme. For instance, they prepared guidelines for the handling and shipping of high-risk infectious material from BSL4 laboratories. Pilot research and diagnostic activities were used to assess the feasibility of the ERINHA coordination structure. As a result, they came up with recommendations to further optimise their RI. They also generated an evidence base highlighting best practices as well as knowledge gaps in BSL4 containment. ERINHA has made considerable inroads towards establishing a legal status for the RI, but they are still awaiting official agreement from the Member States. During the current interim phase, they will work on obtaining sufficient funding as well finalising the legal status. Implementation of the ERINHA RI should ensure optimal allocation of BSL4 research facilities and resources. Duplication of activities will thus be avoided, while promoting efficient collaboration and information exchange within the European Research Area (ERA). European capability to handle major outbreaks of highly pathogenic infectious diseases will vastly improve as a result.

Keywords

Pathogen, research infrastructure, highly pathogenic, biosafety, BSL4, biosafety

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