Monday, 4 July 2016

SPHPM researchers revolutionising Australia’s pandemic response

Professor of infectious diseases epidemiology, Allen Cheng, and Adjunct Professor Steve Webb from SPHPM have been announced as Chief Investigators on a new Centre for Research Excellence (CRE) funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).

The five million dollar NHMRC grant will boost Australia’s response to infectious disease outbreaks and improve Australia’s emergency response to infectious diseases through a national effort, adapting three currently functioning systems - the OPTIMISE-CAP trial, the SPRINT-SARI global collaboration and the FluCAN surveillance system.

The Australian Partnership for Preparedness Research on Infectious Diseases Emergencies (APPRISE) will bring together Australia’s leading experts in clinical, laboratory and public health research to address the key components required for a rapid and effective emergency response to infectious diseases.

All three trials are closely affiliated with the School. Adjunct Professor Steve Webb’s ground-breaking new platform trial, OPTIMISE CAP (Optimisation by Platform Trial Involving Multiple Interventions with Simultaneous Evaluation in Community Acquired Pneumonia), has been innovatively designed so that it can provide a platform to test alternative interventions in the event of a pandemic that causes life-threatening Severe Acute Respiratory Illness (SARI), thus contributing a major component of Australia’s pandemic research response.

Professor Allen Cheng has been involved in developing the Influenza Complications Alert Network (FluCAN) surveillance system which was created to establish and maintain a real-time sentinel hospital surveillance system for acute respiratory disease requiring hospitalisation, which could provide a reliable and timely source of information that could be used to inform public health policy.

The FluCAN surveillance system includes 17 sentinel hospitals including the Alfred Hospital, which report cases of influenza infections requiring hospitalisation to a centralised database. This data was designed to be used to assess burden of disease associated with flu and to estimate the effectiveness of the flu vaccine in preventing hospitalisation due to influenza.

The Australian and New Zealand Intensive Care Research Centre (ANZIC-RC) SPRINT-SARI trial which is also based at SPHPM will be adapted using the APPRISE grant to manage and monitor SARI. Adjunct Professor Steve Webb is also involved in this trial developed by the global ISARIC (International Severe Acute Respiratory and Emerging Infection) Consortium and will be leading the Australian sites of the trial.

The University of Melbourne is the administering institution for APPRISE, headed by Professor Sharon Lewin, Director of the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity. Professor Lewin said while the recent global epidemics of Zika and Ebola didn’t reach Australia, the threat of deadly infectious disease outbreaks happening closer to home is very real.

NHMRC Chief Executive Officer, Professor Anne Kelso said the new Centre would play an important role in Australia’s readiness to respond to future pandemics and other infectious disease emergencies.

“History tells us that new infectious diseases will continue to emerge but that we cannot predict when, where or how. The purpose of this significant NHMRC grant is to establish national capability to respond rapidly when such threats do emerge by undertaking the research needed to inform the public health response,” Professor Kelso said.

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