Our CEO, Doug Brown, writes about his recent trip to Seattle to link up with the international veterinary immunology community and how the BSI can better support this field.
The BSI has always been ambitious in terms of our international reach, something we know our members value highly. In current times, we understand that it’s now more important than ever for us to have a prominent voice on the international stage to speak up for immunology and the UK research community. With that in mind, I recently headed out on a short trip to Seattle, USA, to engage, in particular, with the international veterinary immunology community, a discipline in which the UK has a world-leading research heritage. Supporting research that improves animal health is a key part of the BSI’s mission and this was excellent opportunity for me to link into international networks to assess what additional actions the BSI can take in this field.
A star-studded start
My stay kicked off with a day-long meeting with the STAR-IDAZ international research consortium scientific committee – a global network of researchers and industries working on animal (primarily livestock) health. Their overall objective is to coordinate research at the international level to contribute to new and improved animal health strategies for over 30 priority areas, including both disease specific topics such as bovine tuberculosis and African swine fever, and wider overarching challenges such as antimicrobial resistance and one health. This consortium was initially set up with EU funding and quickly attracted attention from other funders in the animal health research space, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), our hosts for the day.
It was fascinating to hear about the progress the consortium has made over the last three years, with much of the focus being on developing ‘research roadmaps’ for various disciplines, for example developing therapeutics, preventing mosquito/tick-based infections and on vaccinations. The purpose of these roadmaps is to direct research efforts, identify any gaps and encourage funders to put their money in the right places. Gary Entrician (our Congress Secretary) is a member of this committee, leading the vaccination work. For me, it was exciting to see such a visionary, wide-reaching approach being taken at an international scale around such an important topic. The consortium has clearly achieved a lot in a relatively short period of time, though they are already thinking about ‘what next’ for when their current funding ends. As a champion of veterinary immunology, the BSI will definitely be keeping up our links with this group to see what we can do to support their future work to ensure the worldwide health of veterinary immunology.
The next day brought a meeting with the International Union of Immunological Societies (IUIS) Veterinary Immunology Committee. Again, Gary Entrican chairs this and we discussed some of the exciting work that they’re doing in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) to build vet immunology research capacity and training early career researchers. The committee are also involved in developing essential research tools for the community – a key need for a sector that sees relatively little external investment from industry. It’s always great to see communities like this come together!
We also had a lively discussion on how we can raise the profile of veterinary immunology across Europe and how it can better link into the European and International Congresses. This is one of the points that I will be following up with our friends at the European Federation of Immunological Societies (EFIS) to see how we can better embed veterinary research within the wider immunology community.
For me, it was exciting to see such a visionary, wide-reaching approach being taken at an international scale around such an important topic. As a champion of veterinary immunology, the BSI will definitely be keeping up our links with this group to see what we can do to support their future work to ensure the worldwide health of veterinary immunology.
It was then on to the opening day of the International Veterinary Immunology Symposium (IVIS), a key conference bringing together veterinary clinicians and scientists from around the world to discuss the innovative management of zoonoses and animal infections. It kicked off with a fascinating talk by Diane Wendt from the Smithsonian Natural History Museum discussing the historical perspective of veterinary research in vaccine development. The UK’s prominent role was repeatedly highlighted along with some images of interesting artefacts, my favourite being ‘vaccine crusts’ that were collected from children’s smallpox boils and sold to the public – not one for the faint hearted! There followed several more interesting plenary talks and then an evening networking session, an excellent opportunity for me to link in with the international veterinary community and discuss what the BSI could do in the animal health space.
Following an early morning run (boy, is Seattle hilly!), I had another meeting with the BMGF global health policy team to discuss global funds on vaccine delivery and how we can put the BSI’s weight behind various initiatives to encourage national governments to fund vaccine programmes in LMICs. Lots of exciting ideas were discussed, with the BMGF intrigued about the potential of working with us to mobilise research and clinical communities, both on a UK and European level, to put pressure on governments to invest through their international development departments. There’s plenty for us to follow up on and we’re all focussing on a key conference being held in London next June aimed at raising up to $8 billion for Gavi, the international vaccine programme. The BSI is already well-linked into the planning of this following our meeting with the Global Funds team from the UK Government’s Department for International Development – more to follow on this shortly!
Venturing off topic
While in Seattle, I also took the opportunity to meet with staff from Gates Ventures, Bill Gates’ private office. This is separate to the BMGF and is, essentially, a way for Bill Gates to support issues that are close to his heart but don’t necessarily fall within the remit of the Foundation. We had a good discussion around the work of the organisation, particularly focusing on their interest in neuroimmunology, a field that has seen exponential growth in both potential and output over the past few years. After swapping notes, we came up with a number of ideas for how the BSI can link in with ongoing initiatives and ensure that the voice of the UK neuroimmunology community is heard at an international level. I will be following up these possibilities and, again, hope to bring you more news soon.
It was then back to IVIS for me for a bit of indulgence in hardcore science before leaving for the airport. All in all, it was a very valuable trip which has helped maintain existing, and build new contacts to help us deliver our key priorities as the BSI.
Chief Executive, BSI