Pioneering medical initiative creates 176 jobs and £173m programme in first year

Prof Janet Hemingway
X The Business Desk

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Since launching in September 2020, the Infection Innovation Consortium (iiCON), has established itself as a leading global centre for infectious disease R&D and created 176 high value jobs in the North West.

Based across Liverpool and Cheshire, iiCON was founded with an £18.6m government grant provided through UK Research and Innovation’s flagship Strength in Places Fund. The consortium has raised an additional £154.9m in public and private investment in its first year – creating a £173.5m programme.

The collaborative R&D programme is led by Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM). It aims to reduce the global burden of infectious disease – saving and improving millions of lives by working with industry, academia and clinicians to accelerate the discovery, development and deployment of new treatments and products for patients and communities.

Over the past 12 months, iiCON has launched collaborative partnerships with more than 186 UK SMEs and start-ups alongside projects with global industry giants including Pfizer and Unilever. The consortium has also invested £9.4m in local capacity and workforce development.

Bringing together industry, research and the NHS to drive forward collaborative innovation, iiCON’s partner members are Unilever, Evotec, Liverpool University Hospitals Foundation Trust, University of Liverpool, and Infex Therapeutics. The programme has also attracted significant support from organisations including The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, The Wellcome Trust, and the Medical Research Council.

iiCON’s founding director, Prof Janet Hemingway, said: “iiCON was founded in response to the formidable global challenge posed by infectious diseases, antimicrobial resistance, and emerging pandemics. Since our launch in 2020, the consortium’s model of partnership-led co-innovation has enabled a remarkable impact both in terms of driving forward innovation and bringing new products to market, but also in shaping health policy at a regional, national, and global level – saving and improving millions of lives.”

She added: “Poorly-resourced SMEs are our primary wellspring of innovation in new antimicrobial development. Identifying, supporting and connecting the most innovative of these companies with appropriate expertise, infrastructure, and financial backing to navigate the high cost and high risk product development journey and accelerate new products to market is at the heart of our vision.

“We’re delighted to have forged strong partnerships with organisations across the globe, brokered impactful collaborations, supported companies of all sizes, and enabled access to world class expertise and infrastructure to ensure products are accelerated from discovery to market and reach patients and communities quickly, safely, and affordably.”

Operating across 10 specialist research platforms able to pivot to handle any infectious disease, the consortium is designed to drive innovation and provide pandemic resilience. The last year has seen iiCON accelerate the development of new treatments and preventions for COVID-19 and other important infectious diseases.

iiCON validated the first COVID-19 lateral flow test for asymptomatic, pre-symptomatic and symptomatic people. It also worked with the Ministry of Defence to develop a surface spray that deactivates COVID-19 in 60 seconds, which was used in UK COVID testing sites.

Under an iiCON-brokered programme, LSTM collaborated with Unilever, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of oral hygiene products, to rapidly assess the performance of mouthwashes against SARS-CoV-2. This work demonstrated that the technology Unilever uses in its mouthwashes inactivated COVID and provided essential data for regulatory approval and claims in key global markets.

Other contributions to the global COVID effort include co-developing a new model organoid that replicates the impact of COVID-19 on the lungs more accurately than traditional plate bioassays, with the UK SME Newcells BioTech. This innovation will be used to screen more targeted treatments for COVID-19 and other respiratory infections.

Discovering and developing new treatments for deadly resistant infections is a key priority for iiCON’s platforms. Partner Infex Therapeutics, based in Alderley Edge, Cheshire, is expecting to progress two novel therapeutics to tackle dangerous multi-drug resistant microbial infections into clinical trials over the next 12 months – helping to address the major global health threat of Anti-Microbial Resistance.

iiCON’s work is influencing international health policy, supporting communities across the globe, including Africa.

An iiCON trial testing efficacy of mosquito nets treated with insecticide/synergist combinations has shaped the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recommendations for malaria prevention. While a rapid COVID-19 antigen test, validated by researchers at LSTM through iiCON, is being used to deliver large scale testing in key areas of need across Africa as part of a major FIND and UNITAID programme.

The consortium is also working with the Malawian Government and the Wellcome Trust to provide data that is shaping the country’s COVID-19 policy response.

Prof David Lalloo, director Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, said: “iiCON has had an incredible first year. As lead partner, we’re delighted with the programme’s impact in enabling collaboration and driving forward world-changing innovation in infection research and development that will ultimately help to save and improve the lives of millions of people.

“Partnership and co-innovation are absolutely critical if we are to meet the global challenge posed by infectious diseases and emerging pandemics. The consortium’s growth speaks to the scale of the need – it has never been more important that the global community work together to support innovation, strengthen our anti-infectives pipeline, and bolster our response to emerging pandemics and resistant infections.”

He added: “Over the last 12 months, iiCON has firmly established itself as a leading global centre for infection innovation and this is just the beginning of the journey. iiCON has a vital role to play in supporting the discovery and development of the game changing products and treatments of tomorrow, and we’re incredibly excited about what the future holds for the programme.”

Dr Peter Jackson, executive director of Infex Therapeutics, said: “Collaborating to nurture and drive innovation to tackle the global threat of infectious disease is at the heart of iiCON’s purpose. As a core partner, we’re delighted to see the consortium fulfilling this ambition and delivering such significant impact across a number of varied global projects and programmes in its first year.

“With iiCON’s collaborative support and funding, Infex is expecting to progress two novel therapeutics to tackle dangerous multi-drug resistant infections into clinical trials over the next year. Both our treatments address infections that are a key threat to global health and our involvement with iiCON has accelerated these novel therapies to clinical trial stage – ultimately helping to expedite the journey of these much needed new treatments to patients.”

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