New network adopts WHO’s ‘One Health’ approach to coronavirus research

£500,000 to be spent over four years preparing for future outbreaks
13 October 2021 , By Steve Smethurst

The UK International Coronavirus Network (UK-ICN) has been launched to support the delivery of collaborative scientific research into the transmission of coronaviruses from animals to humans. It adopts the WHO’s One Health approach, bringing together multiple sectors to further understanding of the animal-human interface, and ultimately achieve better public health outcomes.

CIEH has welcomed a new coronavirus-research network. Launched in September, the UK International Coronavirus Network (UK-ICN) is designed to plug the gap in understanding the transmission of coronaviruses from animals to humans. It has been awarded £500,000 over four years to support the delivery of collaborative scientific research into this area.

The global network, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), brings together researchers from animal- and human-coronavirus communities. The partnership is between the universities of Cambridge, Edinburgh and Liverpool, plus the Animal and Plant Health Agency, the Roslin Institute and the Pirbright Institute.

The past two decades have seen three coronaviruses (SARS, MERS, SARS-CoV-2) emerge from animal reservoirs with devastating effects on human health and society. The UK-ICN will draw on a range of expertise from different sectors, such as public health, animal health and the environment to further the understanding of seasonality, transmission, ecology and evolution.

The network will use the ‘One Health’ approach designed by the World Health Organization (WHO). This involves bringing together multiple sectors to achieve better public health outcomes. It will involve researchers and partners in the fields of virology, pathogenesis, genotypic markers of phenotype, transmission and immunity.

The UK-ICN will be led by Professor Julian Hiscox, from the Institute of Infection, Veterinary and Ecological Science and the Pandemic Institute, University of Liverpool. He said: “We are delighted to work with BBSRC and Defra in achieving the vision of a One Health internationally focused coronavirus network. We have seen with animal coronaviruses that they do not respect geographical or political borders, and neither does SARS-CoV-2.”

“Understanding interactions between animals, humans and the environment is critical in preventing future zoonotic outbreaks.” – BBSRC Executive Chair Professor, Melanie Welham

BBSRC Executive Chair Professor, Melanie Welham said: “The animal-human interface remains a key and understudied research gap in the current pandemic. Understanding interactions between animals, humans and the environment is critical in preventing future zoonotic outbreaks. This new global network will help us prepare for future outbreaks of animal and human coronaviruses, as well as potential zoonotic spillover events [the transmission of a pathogen from a vertebrate animal to a human].”

Kate Thompson, CIEH Director said: “We welcome this initiative. The pandemic has illustrated the significant global impact that diseases originating in animals can have. Environmental health practitioners have worked tirelessly over the past 18 months to prevent community transmission of the virus.

“Adopting the ‘One Health’ approach, this work will help bridge the gap in understanding the transmission of coronaviruses from animals to humans and between animal species and help us prepare for future outbreaks of zoonotic diseases,” she said.

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