Innovative vaccine testing in Antwerp
Three years ago, the Antwerp University launched Poliopolis: a temporary quarantine laboratory for researching novel vaccines like polio vaccine more thoroughly. Thanks to additional government funding, this initially temporary facility now gets all the resources required to focus on fighting pandemics such as COVID-19, through innovative vaccine testing in a permanent facility, called ‘vaccinopolis’. For the city of Antwerp, this is a major boost to establish its strength as a thriving partner for vaccine studies.
Three to four thousand people lose the battle against the coronavirus each day, which makes scientists worldwide search frantically for a vaccine. In the research for this pandemic, Antwerp comes to a fore with well-founded reasons. The city has a vast and experienced network in the health sector, with over five thousand hospital beds and more than two thousand doctors, all spread over eighteen hospitals.
Furthermore, Antwerp is known for its famous doctors such as the legendary Peter Piot, and has a current generation of pioneering doctors with, among others, Prof. dr. Vlieghe of the Antwerp University Hospital and eminent Institute for Tropical Medicine. Likewise, there are lots of leading pharmaceutical companies and incubators for biomedical research.
Moreover, an increasing number of students have applied for a biomedical and pharmaceutical path in education, with more than two thousand applications for medical academic studies in 2018. The Centre for the Evaluation of Vaccination, University of Antwerp, can rely on more than 25 years’ experience of vaccine trial studies.
Antwerp was also a pioneer thanks to the quarantine facility Poliopolis in 2017. For this project, thirty people were voluntarily locked in a container village on the city’s University Hospital land, for testing new oral polio vaccines. This unique approach resulted in a very successful outcome and made it clear to the world that Belgium is a reliable partner for human vaccine studies.
International battle against COVID-19
Vaccinopolis will be a CHIM-facility. In these Controlled Human Infection Models, healthy subjects, of whom 50% are vaccinated with a candidate vaccine, are challenged by confronting them with a (weaker form of a) certain pathogen, taking all ethical criteria into account. This is a unique method which leads to accelerating development of vaccines. Still, there’s a worldwide lack of this type of facilities.
Thanks to its success in 2017, the quarantine facility becomes a permanent facility: the Belgian government invests twenty million euros in a new, overarching project by the universities UAntwerp and ULB (Brussels). Thirteen million euros will be used for the new Antwerp quarantine facility, while seven million will be invested in a brand new and cutting edge immunology centre in Gosselies.
Both facilities will take an international approach to selecting the best vaccines for pandemics such as COVID-19. The project is both publicly and privately funded: both universities are on the lookout for another twenty million euros through additional institutional foundations and private investors.
The successor of Poliopolis will be built at Campus Drie Eiken in Wilrijk, at the south edge of the city of Antwerp, and will have room for thirty beds. The Antwerp University has performed over five hundred clinical trials with vaccines over the last twenty-five years. Furthermore, the universities of Antwerp and Brussels have repeatedly cooperated on vaccine research projects: in this new, groundbreaking project, both universities will rely on their existing expertise and capacities through their familiar, complementary way.
As an optimally located port city, Antwerp offers the perfect mix for business activities thanks to its huge creative scene, vast business network, versatile talent pool and high quality of life.
To guarantee that quality, the city of Antwerp and its numerous eminent doctors and glorious health sector have given the opportunity to many talents to let themselves develop their medical skills on an international level.
Prof. Pierre Van Damme (UA) is one of the leading scientists of Vaccinopolis:
We have unique experience in the field of testing vaccines: we ran more than 500 vaccine trials in the last 25 years.