Informing the world about influenza

Influenza
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The International Society for Influenza and other Respiratory Virus Diseases, speaks to SciTech Europa Quarterly about the importance of working for disease prevention and control.

Influenza is a viral infection that attacks your respiratory system (such as your nose, throat and lungs). For most people, influenza is mild and stops on its own accord, however for some, the disease can result in hospitalisation or death.

The International Society for Influenza and other Respiratory Virus Diseases (isirv) is an independent and international scientific professional society promoting the prevention, detection, treatment, and control of influenza and other respiratory virus diseases.

SciTech Europa Quarterly speaks with isirv Chair, Lance Jennings about the importance of sharing research on respiratory virus diseases, such as influenza.

Can you start by telling us a bit about the work and role of isirv?

The International Society for Influenza and other Respiratory Viral Diseases (isirv) started from the idea of having a truly international scientific organisation that could bring together both those working in diverse areas of influenza and other respiratory viruses, and those in different organisational groups spanning government, academia, industry and public health. Isirv, now in its 14th year of operation, was officially launched in 2005.

The true origins of isirv go back to 2003, when a core group of five distinguished influenza scientists, first developed the concept of isirv. They recognised that we were in a new and more complex era for influenza with the emergence of zoonotic influenza A viruses, such as highly pathogenic avian H5N1 and H7N7 viruses, that had both caused unprecedented outbreaks of human disease, and were newly recognised as pandemic threats with potentially devastating consequences. In addition to this, the sudden appearance of SARS coronavirus in 2002, and the associated epidemic of human disease, drew attention to the importance of improving our understanding of other viral respiratory diseases.

It was also recognised that the long-standing network of influenza surveillance laboratories and influenza specialists were among the people called upon to investigate the novel SARS CoV, highlighting the overlap and synergy in respiratory virus surveillance and research. Furthermore, the increasing diversity and sub-specialisation of scientists working in the field of influenza and other respiratory viruses underscored the need to bring together scientists from all areas, from basic science to healthcare policy, to work together towards a single goal of disease prevention and control.

The mission of isirv is to promote ‘the prevention, detection, treatment and control of influenza and other respiratory virus diseases throughout the world’. How do you achieve this?

Isirv is an international organisation, registered with the UK Charity Commission, which has a professional scientific membership from over 50 countries, providing a global forum for the exchange of information and international collaboration on influenza and other respiratory viruses, education and science advocacy. An early decision for the isirv board was the need to facilitate the dissemination of scientific information, through the Society journal, ‘Influenza and Other Respiratory Viruses’. Wiley-Blackwell was selected as the publisher and under successive Editor’s-in-Chief, the journal has become a quality international forum in a new era of open access with a healthy impact factor of 3.095.

An extremely successful strategy to involve members in the Societies mission focused activities, and in addressing the diverse interests of our members, has been the formation of Special Interest Groups (SIGs). The first SIG was formed in 2011 through the merger with the Neuraminidase Inhibition Susceptibility Network (NISN). It has been renamed the isirv Antiviral Group (AVG), and has continued its mission within isirv to promote understanding of the clinical use of antivirals against respiratory viruses, track the emergence of antiviral resistance and provide expert knowledge on the development of new antiviral strategies.

The role of the AVG continues to be relevant as new antivirals become commercially available and independent advocacy is required by the health profession. Two further special interest groups were established in 2013. The Epidemiology Special Interest Group promotes the scientific understanding of how respiratory viruses spread and cause epidemics and to provide information on intervention strategies, and the Neglected Influenza Viruses Group, while promotes exchange of knowledge on viruses from different species to address gaps in knowledge of zoonotic and potentially zoonotic viruses.

More recently, a Vaccine Special Interest Group has been formed and the International Society for RSV (ISRSV) has been merged as a SIG, diversifying further isirv’s respiratory virus activities. The IRSVS complements isirv’s mission by promoting and supporting excellence in research, scholarship, clinical practice, and development of interventions to prevent disease caused by respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) for the benefit of both human and animal health. It achieves this by ensuring that bi-annual Conferences share scientific information and accelerate the development of strategies to reduce the impact of RSV infection.

The education of young researchers has also been an important charitable objective of isirv. The ‘Schools’ of Influenza have provided a unique, week-long opportunity for young researchers to interact with and learn from research leaders. The last school, which was held in Beirut in 2018, had an expanded format to include MERS-Cov, a virus relevant to the region, as well as other respiratory viruses. This ‘School’ model is now well established and as host institutions are identified, isirv hopes to hold it in other countries around the world. From time to time, training seminars on specific techniques are also held, with the most recent being on the Genetic Analysis of Influenza Viruses.

All of these activities require engagement with national and international partners or other resources. These may include national tourism authorities for individual conference support through to the World Health Organization (WHO), diagnostic and pharmaceutical companies, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, The Welcome Trust, as well as other professional societies and universities around the world. Isirv has also developed Memoranda of Understanding with the European Scientific Working Group on Influenza (ESWI) and the Asia Pacific Alliance for the Control of Influenza (APACI), and less formal partnerships with the WHO and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). These partnerships are pivotal for advancing the mission activities of isirv and extending the global knowledge base on the importance of influenza and other respiratory virus diseases.

In accordance to the question above, what would you say are the main challenges this brings? How are these overcome?

The aims of isirv are generally achieved by the sharing of information and stimulating interaction between researchers and others regarding influenza and other respiratory virus diseases. The establishment of SIG’s, and a growing suite of both small and larger meetings, has led to new challenges requiring an increased professionalism of the Society, both in the way that it supports its members activities and the Society’s governance.

The major challenge faced by isirv is how to support the ongoing growth of the Society and the increasing number of activities. The resourcing of the isirv office is in urgent need of review, especially as most conference organising activities have been moved in-house. In addition, governance and other infrastructure changes imposed by the financial sector because of perceived global political instability and evolving financial risks. Regardless, isirv must focus on its membership and support their interests and activities in order to progress the Societies Mission.

The OPTIONS X conference is fast approaching. What is the importance of events such as this?

The isirv was formed to be the permanent ‘home’ of the Options for the Control of Influenza Conference series held every three years, and since 2005, has remained the largest international Conference devoted exclusively to influenza. The conference brings together academic scientists, researchers, healthcare professionals and public health specialists and industry to share their experiences and research results on all aspects of influenza. It also provides an interdisciplinary platform with global reach, for the discussion of the most recent innovations, advances and concerns. Isirv is very focused on fostering the exchange of scientific knowledge and practice and has introduced a Chinese focused stream to Options X.

It is hoped that the focus of this stream, dedicated to public health officials and conducted in English, will address the pressing issues in the wider Asian region. At this conference, isirv recognises its membership in a number of ways. Prestigious awards include ‘the isirv Lifetime Achievement Award’, which recognises the long and productive career of an individual in the field of influenza as well as service to isirv, and the provision of ‘The Geoffrey Schild Travel Award’ to an imminent Plenary Speaker. Furthermore, promising young scientists early in their careers, or from poor resourced countries, are provided with travel and accommodation grants. An isirv-Wylie Young Researcher Award is also presented for the best oral presentation by an early career researcher, along with other Oral Presentation and Poster Awards for each scientific stream.

What is next for isirv?

The sharing of information and facilitating the interaction between researchers and others regarding influenza and other respiratory virus diseases, is the primary aim of the Societies’ activities. As part of the isirv Office resourcing, more effective communication with the membership through a website that also supports interaction with the wider scientific community is a priority.

Isirv also needs to build on the successful ‘International Meetings on Respiratory Pathogens’ (IMRP) series of conferences based in Singapore, which complement the Options Series of Conferences, allowing a focus to be placed on other respiratory viral diseases and viral/bacterial interactions. This series, along with the merger with the International Society for Respiratory Syncytial Virus (ISRSV) further diversifies isirv’s respiratory virus activities and will allow engagement with new developments in vaccines and Immuno-therapeutics and the provision of support for the development of global virologic surveillance of RSV to support future vaccine introduction.

The provision of travel grants to enable early career scientists and scientists from poor resourced countries to participate in isirv meetings, who could otherwise not afford to do so, is a charitable aim of the society. Isirv continues to explore ways to increase this type support as well as recognition awards for young scientists participating in isirv meetings. However, an over-riding priority will be the organisation of the Options XI Conference, which will be held in Milan, Italy in 1922.

 

Lance Jennings

Chair

International society for influenza and other respiratory virus diseases

+64 27 213 8021

isirvcoordination@gmail.com

https://isirv.org/site/

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