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£500k awarded for research to combat Avian Influenza

April 25, 2024

The Pandemic Institute has recently come together with The National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Health Protection Research Unit in Emerging and Zoonotic Infections (HPRU EZI) and the Pandemic Sciences Institute (PSI) in Oxford, to award almost £500,000 for research on Avian Influenza, in collaboration with the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).

Avian Influenza, also known as Bird flu, is a virus that can cause illness in captive and wild birds, and also has the potential to spread to mammals including humans. Certain forms of the virus are termed ‘highly pathogenic’, which means they have greater potential to cause serious illness and even death. The aim of this funding is to address critical research gaps in Avian Influenza knowledge, especially highly pathogenic Avian Influenza, particularly in the following areas:

  • Diagnostics
  • Anti-virals
  • Vaccines
  • Mathematical modelling to better understand the disease evolution and spread
  • Non-pharmaceutical interventions e.g. behavioural changes

The funding will be distributed across eight projects from several organisations, including the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, University of Liverpool and University of Oxford, all working alongside UKHSA, the government agency responsible for preventing, preparing for and responding to infectious diseases and environmental hazards. 

Dr Carolina Arevalo, Deputy Director, Research, Evidence & Knowledge at UKHSA said:

“We are pleased to collaborate with The Pandemic Institute on this funding call, addressing key research needs and strengthening existing partnerships with university researchers.”

One of the funded projects will seek to develop ‘drug knowledge libraries’, using mathematical modelling to simulate the optimal dose of particular drugs during a future outbreak or pandemic.

Professor Saye Khoo, a Professor of Pharmacology & Therapeutics at the University of Liverpool said:

“This is an important first step in building capability to respond to any emerging virus should an outbreak occur. There is no guarantee that an antiviral licensed for one disease will necessarily achieve effective target concentrations for another virus or new variant, and having these libraries will further allow us to respond flexibly and adapt rapidly to emerging flu outbreaks.”

Dr Shaun Pennington will be working with colleagues from Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine on a Controlled Human Infection Model, or CHIM, which is a research method where healthy volunteers are deliberately exposed to a specific pathogen, such as a virus or bacteria. This controlled exposure allows scientists to study how the pathogen interacts with the human body, including how the infection progresses over time, and how the immune system responds to the pathogen. CHIM studies play a crucial role in advancing our understanding of infection and disease and are now routinely used to evaluate the effectiveness of treatments and vaccines. 

“This funding will facilitate the development of a new CHIM using a weakened strain of temperature-sensitive avian influenza. This strain is particularly suited for CHIM as it can only replicate in the nose at cooler temperatures and cannot replicate in the lungs or cause illness. Through the establishment of this CHIM, we aim to significantly contribute to the development and evaluation of new diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines, thereby enhancing the UK’s readiness to address future disease outbreaks.“

Other projects will focus on developing new diagnostic tests and mapping potential risk to humans. Dr Emily Nixon, a Lecturer in Mathematics for Healthcare at the University of Liverpool said:

“Understanding the spatial variation in risk of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in wild birds and poultry is crucial for assessing the risk of exposure to humans. This funding will allow us to map risk to poultry workers and the public, and will build on mathematical models developed at the University of Liverpool by Professor Sharkey.”

You can find a full list of awarded projects below.


Lead investigator and project titles:

  • Prof Saye Khoo, University of Liverpool: Modelling drug knowledge libraries for pandemic/avian flu
  • Dr Shaun Pennington, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine:  A controlled human infection model of avian influenza
  • Dr Shaun Pennington, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine: A pre-clinical pipeline for avian influenza therapeutics
  • Dr Emily Nixon & Professor Kieran Sharkey, University of Liverpool: Modelling transmission of highly pathogenic avian influenza in poultry and mapping potential risk to humans
  • Dr Emily Adams, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine: Diagnostics consortium to address challenges in the rapid detection of Avian Influenza Virus
  • Dr Ash Otter, UK Health Security Agency: Duck, duck, goose: a combined modelling and serosurveillance approach to understand H5N1 within England
  • Dr Marcus Blagrove, University of Liverpool: Epidemic simulation of Influenza A: applications to current HPAI, and a deployable pipeline for future outbreaks
  • Prof Paul Klenerman, University of Oxford: Production of human neutralising monoclonal antibodies for influenza strains with pandemic potential (H5N1, H7N9)