SEOUL, South Korea -- Dr. John Clemens, Director General of the International Vaccine Institute (IVI), has been named a member of a committee on pandemic influenza research for the British government.
Dr. Clemens, a US physician, will serve as a member of the "Pandemic Influenza Oversight and Assessment Committee" for the Medical Research Council (MRC) of the United Kingdom. MRC convened the committee to evaluate and award grants for quality research proposals that aim to strengthen preparedness for a potential influenza pandemic.
Amid the lingering threat of a potential influenza pandemic caused by the H5N1 virus, international organizations, national governments and health agencies are scrambling to cope with the threat through national surveillance, prevention and control strategies. Despite all the hypes, however, little is known about the specific risk factors posed by avian flu for humans. These questions are about what the specific modes of transmission are, and what ecology, epidemiology and clinical research can reveal about the critical points for preventive (pre-pandemic) or responsive (pandemic) action.
Also, current vaccines for seasonal flu are effective for only select strains and need to be reformulated frequently. There are major uncertainties about the correlates of immunity and about the potential effectiveness of a human vaccine to new avian influenza strains. "Research is needed to underpin the improvement of the effectiveness and efficiency of current vaccines and to create better vaccines for both seasonal and pandemic flu in the longer term," MRC said in a statement.
MRC is an independent organization,, funded by the U.K. Department of Trade and Industry. Founded in 1913, the council promotes research into all areas of medical and related science to improve the health and quality of life. It spent 430 million pounds to support research in 2004.
MRC plans to make extra funding of up to 10 million pounds available for influenza research in Britain over the next two years. MRC said the ad hoc committee will give scientific priorities to basic immunology and translational and clinical research, including epidemiology and modeling. "Experts on the committee have been, thus, drawn from a broad range of disciplines within the research field," an MRC official said.
Dr. Clemens, 56, is a leading expert in epidemiology and vaccine evaluation. As IVI's first Director General since 1999, he has spearheaded the dynamic growth of the Institute's translational research program to introduce new vaccines for the world's poor and the laboratory science program to develop vaccines. Before joining the IVI, he held senior positions at the United States National Institutes of Health, and served as a long-term advisor to the World Health Organization. "My participation on this important committee fits well with IVI's growing focus on vaccines against emerging pathogens such as avian influenza," Dr. Clemens commented.
As the world's only international organization devoted to research and development of vaccines for developing countries, the IVI currently seeks to expand its programs of research to emerging pathogens, including avian flu. Last August, the IVI formed the "Pandemic Influenza Consortium Korea (PICK)," a consortium of organizations in the country, to address the programmatic and research needs to protect Korea and other countries against the threat. This year, the institute will upgrade its biosafety level 3 laboratory at its headquarters in Seoul, to allow it to handle dangerous microbes, including the deadly H5N1 flu virus, while spurring its research efforts in the field.