The European Plotkin Institute for Vaccinology (www.epiv.eu) is a joined initiative of the University of Antwerp (led by Prof. Pierre Van Damme) and the Université libre de Bruxelles (led by Prof. Arnaud Marchant) supported by the Belgian Federal Government. This unique inter-university academic institute, launched in May 2022, gathers the clinical, immunology and microbiology research capacity at the universities in Antwerp and Brussels, Belgium. The mission of the institute is to accelerate the evaluation and development of vaccine candidates and to participate in global efforts for better pandemic preparedness and prevention. The Institute bears the name of longtime vaccine developer and researcher Stanley Plotkin, Emeritus Professor at the University of Pennsylvania
The objectives are to:
- Perform vaccine trials, including controlled human challenge and phase 1 trials, addressing priority diseases and pathogens;
- Perform in depth and systems analyses of immune responses to vaccines and pathogens and to identify mechanisms of action of vaccines and therapeutics, and to define correlates of protection against pathogens;
- Strengthen local & international networks of research in vaccinology. Support the coordination of global efforts to streamline and maximize collaboration, capacity building, training and harmonization across vaccinology and immunology facilities in high, middle and low income countries.
The University of Antwerp recently inaugurated Vaccinopolis, a brand-new clinical testing facility located. This unique infrastructure houses a 30-bed quarantine unit and extensive BSL-2 and BSL-3 laboratories as well as a large ambulatory trial unit for Phase 1, 2 and 3 trials. The building consists of 3 floors with a total of >6000m². The first floor contains the ambulatory trial unit as well as the offices and the laboratories.
The large quarantine/contained unit located on the second floor, is designed to conduct Controlled Human Infections Model (CHIM) studies with BSL-2 and BSL-3 pathogens (challenge agents) with full integration of technical elements providing complete control overflow of air, liquid, and waste. This ensures the safety and security of the participant, staff and environment at all times during study conduct. Each room has its own bathroom and an airlock to allow medical staff to put on clean protection before entering the actual patient room. This ensures that cross contamination from one room into the next rooms can be prevented. All rooms are under negative pressure to prevent any pathogen from escaping into the environment and are connected to separate HEPA filters and airducts to clean the entire room with vaporized hydrogen peroxide after the trial. The quarantine unit can also be used to study shedding and transmission of pathogens and impact of interventions on it.
To provide advanced immunology and microbiology analyses of clinical samples collected at Vaccinopolis, the Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB) is currently building a 3,600 m² facility with state-of-the-art BSL2 and BSL3 laboratories. Sample and data analyses flows will be harmonized across the Antwerp and Brussels sites to provide a unique and integrated capacity for in depth characterization of vaccine responses and identification of correlates of protection in CHIM studies. The facility, located next to the ULB University Hospital, will also include a clinical research unit complementing the capacity of Vaccinopolis for accelerated conduct of ambulatory vaccine trials.
Research teams at University of Antwerp and ULB have a long-standing experience in international vaccinology research involving collaborative projects with many institutions across the globe, including high-, middle- and low-income countries. We also have a strong expertise in vaccinology education and training through national and international programs. Building on this expertise, the institute aims to actively support and contribute to the development and coordination of a network of clinical trial and immunology laboratory facilities conducting vaccine and controlled human challenge studies in high-, middle- and low-income countries. The European Plotkin Institute for Vaccinology will serve as a hub for advanced research in vaccinology, hosting researchers from collaborating institutions all over the world. Furthermore, it is the ambition of the Institute to work in a global context and align with other key stakeholders such as EU, WHO, CEPI and Bill & Melinda Gates foundation on combatting infectious diseases.