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New research hub could save millions of lives

29 December 2017 12:02

The 2014 Ebola virus was the worst ever epidemic of the disease

The 2014 Ebola virus was the worst ever epidemic of the disease

The lives of millions of people could be saved with the formation of a new British-based research hub aimed at limiting the spread of deadly outbreaks, such as Ebola and Zika.

The £10 million scheme is being funded by the Department of Health and will halt outbreaks by swiftly deploying vaccines across the globe.

Responding to the project, entitled the Future Vaccine Manufacturing Hub, public health minister Steve Brine, said: "Diseases do not respect borders and we have a responsibility to fight them both at home and abroad.

"Our scientists and laboratories are world-leading and can hold the key to making and deploying more life-saving vaccines - including when emerging threats arise like Zika or Ebola. This hub has the immense potential to save and improve the lives of millions."

Project aims

The scheme is being led by Imperial College London and its objectives are two-fold; the first being to create a manufacturing system that can mass-produce tens of thousands of inoculations within weeks of new viruses being identified.

The second aim is to improve production processes, to ensure that vaccines can be more effectively created, stabilised and stored - with their need to be kept at temperatures of between 2C and 8C seen as a major challenge.

In addition to Imperial College, there are four other British universities and three UK institutes involved in the hub - managed by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

Zika outbreak

The Zika outbreak started in early 2015 in Brazil, and quickly spread to other areas of South and Central America.

The virus is mainly spread by mosquitoes and most people experience just a mild infection which isn't harmful.

However, evidence shows the virus can cause birth defects such as microcephaly - abnormally small heads - and so pregnant women mare warned against travelling to countries where Zika is prevalent, as identified by the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO).

Ebola epidemic

In West Africa during 2014, the Ebola epidemic was the most widespread Ebola outbreak in history.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that there have been 28,637 infected with the Ebola virus, although difficulty collecting the data means this figure could be grossly underestimated.

During the outbreak, the FCDO issued guidance against visitng outbreak countries in west Africa, such as Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, but these have since been lifted as they are known to be "Ebola free".

Rapid deployment of vaccines via the new hub could save the lives of millions of people in the event of another outbreak, or a comparable epidemic.

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