British scientists at the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) are proactively developing vaccines for potential future pandemics caused by so-called ‘Disease X’, which refers to deadly animal-borne viruses that could evolve to infect humans. The researchers, based at the high-security Porton Down laboratory complex in Wiltshire, are focused on combating pathogens such as bird flu, monkeypox, and hantavirus.
The research conducted at Porton Down’s Vaccine Development and Evaluation Center has been expanded since the COVID-19 pandemic, with 200 scientists dedicated to developing vaccines for animal viruses that have not yet infected humans. The objective of this work is to be as prepared as possible for the emergence of a new pathogen or Disease X. Professor Dame Jenny Harries, the chief of UKHSA, acknowledged the importance of proactive measures, stating that they aim to prevent a pandemic, but if it cannot be prevented, they are already working on developing vaccines and therapeutics to combat it.
One example of their progress is the development of a vaccine against Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever. This disease, which is spread by ticks and has a fatality rate of 30%, now has a vaccine that is entering early-stage clinical trials. Twenty-four volunteers are expected to participate in these trials, which will assess the effectiveness and safety of the vaccine.
In addition to Crimean-Congo fever, the scientists at Porton Down are studying other dangerous pathogens such as bird flu, monkeypox, and hantavirus. It is worth noting that the news report did not specify whether the scientists were engaging in so-called “gain-of-function” research, involving the modification of viruses to enhance their infectivity in humans. Gain-of-function research has been a controversial topic, as it can serve both defensive purposes, such as vaccine development, and offensive purposes, such as the creation of bioweapons. The report also mentioned the controversial gain-of-function research conducted at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China, which some believe to be the source of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted Western governments to invest in disease control and vaccine research infrastructure. For example, the US recently established a permanent pandemic response agency, tasked with developing medical countermeasures for animal-borne diseases that have not yet posed a threat to humans. Similarly, the UKHSA is expanding its capabilities to respond to potential future pandemics, ensuring that the country is prepared to handle emerging infectious diseases effectively.
In conclusion, British scientists at the UKHSA’s Porton Down laboratory are actively developing vaccines for potential future pandemics caused by animal-borne viruses known as ‘Disease X’. Their research aims to proactively combat pathogens such as bird flu, monkeypox, and hantavirus. By expanding their vaccine development capabilities and conducting early-stage clinical trials, they are taking essential steps to prepare for the emergence of a new pathogen and protect public health.