Oxford to build centre to fight future pandemic threat

The University of Oxford has launched a £500 million project to create a new centre of global research, collaboration and excellence into future pandemics.

The Pandemic Sciences Centre, which will include a number of core institutes, will harness the global research collaborations that the University of Oxford has developed over more than forty years.

It comes as one leading academic warned that the COVID-19 pandemic had to be taken as a warning as to the real threat of a future global pandemic which a far higher mortality rate.

The university said the new centre’s mission will be to ensure that the world is better equipped to create global, and equitable science-driven solutions to prepare for, identify, and counter future pandemic threats.

Louise Richardson, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford, said: “The recent pandemic has demonstrated the unique contributions research universities like Oxford can make to pandemic preparedness. We are building on decades of medical research on infectious disease and data science, we have longstanding international partnerships and we have the ability to act and to adapt quickly. When aligned with industry and with public health bodies we can ensure that the world is never caught unprepared again.”

Within Oxford, the centre will draw together academics and experts from across its research and innovation community, including from infectious diseases, vaccinology, immunology, structural biology, diagnostics, drug discovery, clinical trials, data science, public health, and social and political sciences. Nationally and internationally, the Centre will foster a multisectoral approach and invest in agile platforms and partnerships.

The centre will focus on three core themes:

  • Accelerating understanding and insights: generating actionable knowledge and data (from pathogens through to patients) in near ‘real-time’ and making this globally accessible.
  • Translating research into real-world solutions: creating and deploying effective, acceptable and equitable health technologies, including digital tools, diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines.
  • Enhancing confidence, trust and impact:  identifying ways to strengthen societal and political engagement, resilience, and responsiveness.

Professor Sir John Bell, Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford University, said: “It would be easy to ignore just how much more serious a pandemic could have been this time around – other highly pathogenic viruses carry mortalities of 35-50% – imagine if we had a pandemic where one in three infected people died.

“The University of Oxford is uniquely capable of leading a global step change in how we respond to the threat of emerging infections. By investing in sound science now, we can help to safeguard our resilience, global economic stability and health security for generations to come. We are ready to take our vision to build on these foundations to ensure society is better prepared and agile in its response to future threats.”

The inaugural Director of the centre will be Peter Horby, Professor of Emerging Infectious Diseases at the University of Oxford, who has worked on many global health threats including SARS-1, bird flu, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, Ebola, Lassa fever, and plague.

Professor Horby said the current pandemic had proved the innovation that cooperation can deliver.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that spectacular advances are possible through an alliance of science, the public sector and industry – creating digital disease control tools, diagnostic tests, and life-saving treatments and vaccines at unprecedented speed,” he explained. “But it should not take a pandemic to make this happen. This level of innovation and multi-sectoral collaboration must be applied, day in and day out, to prevent another catastrophe like COVID-19.”

The University is now looking to secure over £500 million to invest in the centre, with contributions from philanthropists, corporate partners and governments.