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Today Oxford University has launched a new global collaboration backed by £8 million funding from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). The project will be spearheaded by Professor Teresa Lambe, Professor of Vaccinology and Immunology and Calleva Head of Vaccine Immunology in the Department of Paediatrics and Professor Paul Klenerman, Sidney Truelove Professor of Gastroenterology and Director of the Translational Gastroenterology Unit at NDM, both of whom are Principal Investigators at NDM’s Pandemic Sciences Institute.

The consortium, made up of leading academic and industrial partners, will work on the development of better vaccines that will offer protection against multiple strains of COVID-19. The project titled ‘Immune Memory and Mechanisms of Protection from Vaccines’ (IMMPROVE) aims to enhance protection against several respiratory pathogens, including influenza and Respiratory Syncytial Virus. The work will also establish global networks of trained personnel with the scientific tools to better prepare the world for the next pandemic.

The ambitious research project is one of three projects announced today by UKRI under its Tackling Infections strategic theme, which is investigating future infectious disease threats. The funding from UKRI will catalyse global cooperation to improve understanding of existing COVID-19 vaccines and enhance future vaccine development.

The research will better understand how through vaccination, the training and preservation of protective immune response can keep us safe from disease, contributing crucial new knowledge for future pandemic preparedness.

Prof Teresa Lambe said: ‘I’m excited to work with this world-leading team of scientists on this important programme of work. This research will help us better understand the processes by which vaccines lead to immune protection and how best to stimulate these, helping us prepare for the next pandemic.’

Prof Paul Klenerman said: ‘The UK scientific community rose to the challenge of the pandemic and in doing so it brought many different groups together to collaborate in new networks. This consortium continues the spirit of that collaboration to address some of the key remaining challenges, not just for COVID-19, but for vaccines in general. I’m delighted to be involved and looking forward to working with such a great team of people.’

Alongside the University of Oxford, academic research partners include Babraham Institute, University of Cambridge, University of Birmingham, Imperial College London, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, University College London, University of Southampton the PITCH consortium (involving researchers in Oxford, Birmingham, Liverpool, Newcastle, and Sheffield Universities), the Sanger Institute, UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) and the Royal Veterinary College.

Other industrial and non-profit partners include AstraZeneca, Sanofi Pasteur, Moderna, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Janssen Pharmaceuticals.

The COVID-19 pandemic saw the rapid development and deployment of a range of vaccine platforms. While essential to protect against severe disease, these vaccine platforms need further optimisation to provide long-term and local protection against infection, including from future variants. Building on past experience accumulated during the COVID-19 pandemic, this consortium will improve understanding of how a protective immune response is induced, how it is maintained, and the role of immunity in the nose and the lungs.

In the long term, the consortium will strengthen the capacity of the UK and global vaccines programme, bolstering research efforts with real-world impact, providing access to state-of-the-art resources, expertise, and career development for Early Career Researchers and promoting vaccine uptake.