Professor Sir Peter Horby, Director of the Pandemic Sciences Institute, today advised a committee of MPs of the importance of strategic scientific research funding to prepare the UK for a future pandemic.
Professor Horby highlighted the impact of UK-led scientific breakthroughs during the pandemic, including developing one of the most affordable and widely used vaccines, running the RECOVERY trial for COVID-19 treatments, and world-leading genomic sequencing capability through COG-UK.
However, Professor Horby advised MPs that, “a lot of that capability has not had strategic investment to keep it going. And although [the UK] showed G7 leadership with the 100 Days Mission, which was a fantastic ambition, I’ve not seen that translated into a real roadmap with concrete deliverables.”
The 100 Days Mission to Respond to Future Pandemic Threats is the aim to reduce the impact of future pandemics by making diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines available within 100 days of a pandemic being declared.
Professor Horby made the comments at the opening session of the House of Commons Science, Innovation and Technology Select Committee Inquiry on Emerging Diseases and Learnings from COVID-19.
The Inquiry, which was launched in December 2022, is examining the UK government’s preparedness for emerging diseases with pandemic potential.
Professor Horby also told the committee that many years of research – particularly in terms of vaccine development for earlier coronaviruses including SARS-CoV-1 and MERS – were behind the rapid successes seen during COVID-19. He emphasised that similar strategic investment would be needed to prepare for future pandemics, saying: ‘You’re going to have to have done several years of work to implement the ‘100 Days [Mission]’.
Professor Horby gave evidence alongside Professor Bryan Charleston, Director and CEO of The Pirbright Institute and a veterinary viral immunologist.
Other topics discussed included the impact of environmental and climate change on emerging diseases, the need for more high-containment laboratory facilities in the UK and the importance of domestic and international pandemic policy coordination.
Today’s oral evidence session followed the Pandemic Sciences Institute’s submission of written evidence to the Inquiry earlier this year.
In that evidence, senior researchers from across the Institute recommended the UK government should develop a comprehensive research and development strategy for pandemic preparedness and provide resources – infrastructure, lab capacity and long-term strategic funding – to deliver this strategy.
PSI researchers also recommended that the UK government cultivate an enabling environment so that pandemic sciences research can thrive, through improved governance structures, data sharing and upskilling of regulatory staff.