Innogen Research on Covid-19

27 March 2020

Recent publications by Innogen members draw attention to lessons learnt from previous outbreaks of infectious disease, and to the importance of ‘local health’ and the law in global health emergencies.

In a working paper, Farah Huzair and Joyce Tait bring together knowledge built up from previous disease outbreaks that could be used by governments, regulators and health agencies to help manage pandemic events and improve the chances of a quick economic recovery.

They highlight the importance of understanding human behavioural dynamics in a pandemic, the need to support innovation in diagnostics, drugs and vaccines for emerging infectious diseases, and to adopt more rapid, adaptive regulatory systems that enable innovation.

In a paper written at the time of the H1N1 influenza pandemic in 2009 based on the H5N1 incident, Tait and Anne Bruce argued that the benefits of an effective vaccine or drug should be calculated, not just on the basis of its health impacts, but also on its economic value in giving people the confidence to continue to go to work.

Also based on the H5N1 incident, research by the Innogen Institute, the London School of Economics and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, investigated the economic impact of mutually incompatible policies aimed at maintaining “business as usual” while encouraging “social distancing”. The authors of this study conclude that the availability of effective vaccines, along with diagnostics and drugs, is key to reduce the impact of the virus on the economy, their impact on giving healthy people the confidence to continue working being financially much more significant than their impact on the progression of the disease.

Since 2009, when vaccine manufacturing was dominated by a handful of multi-national corporations working on standard inactivated or attenuated virus vaccines, the innovation ecosystem has changed significantly. New scientific discoveries in synthetic biology, gene editing, and other biotechnologies are enabling small, agile and dynamic firms to develop radically new approaches for Covid-19 diagnosis and treatment.

Huzair and Tait also consider how regulators and health agencies should draw from previous experiences when dealing with the H1N1 pandemic, when expedited review and licensing procedures were adopted, and new approaches to health communication and risk assessment were trialled.

Julius Mugwagwa has written an Op-ed for UCL’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy (STEaPP) blog highlighting the need to work with and within local priorities and strengthen local capabilities to tackle global health emergencies such as Covid-19.

Also emphasising the importance of ‘local health’, in a letter published in the Guardian, Maureen Mackintosh, David Wield and others, highlight the difficulties facing local health services tackling the Covid-19 pandemic in the UK, because of underfunding since 2010.

Finally, in The Mason’s Institute blog, Graeme Laurie writes about the importance of the law and legal preparedness in the face of public health emergencies. He suggests 10 key areas where the UK could pay close attention to improving legal preparedness for dealing with the current COVID-19 pandemic (and future global health emergencies).