More than 140 experts came together on the 22nd and 24th of September 2020 for DRIVE’s third Annual Forum. This included DRIVE associate partners, research collaborators and external stakeholders, along with representatives from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), National Public Health Institutes (NPHIs), European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the European Commission (Innovative Medicines Initiative [IMI] and DG Research and Innovation).
After closely monitoring the situation with COVID-19 and careful consideration, DRIVE’s Steering Committee decided to cancel the traditional face-to-face meeting and organize a two-day virtual webinar.
DRIVE’s Annual Forum is dedicated to revisit the lessons learnt during the project’s development and to better understand every season’s brand-specific vaccine effectiveness, as well as obtaining feedback from DRIVE’s multiple external stakeholders. This year, the discussions had an additional focus on how COVID-19 impacted the project’s development and the future sustainability of the platform.
“Brand-specific influenza vaccine effectiveness and COVID19 impact: how to be better prepared for the 2020/21 season”
Day one of the Annual Forum webinars, on the 22nd of September, kicked-off with a brief introduction of DRIVE’s achievements and lessons learnt, conducted by the DRIVE project coordinator Javier Diez-Domingo, followed by a session focused on DRIVE study sites’ experiences with the COVID-19 pandemic. The chosen sites were: CIRI-IT (Italy), HUS Jorvi Hospital (Finland) and NIID (Romania); 3 research collaborators that faced 3 different situations during the COVID19 outbreak: intense, mild and a COVID-19 dedicated hospital, respectively.
The second lecture presented the project’s influenza vaccine effectiveness results for the 2019/2020 season. Although the 2019/20 influenza season was mild and highly impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak, DRIVE has been able to obtain several precise results for influenza vaccine effectiveness. The afternoon closed with an external talk by Cornelia Adlhoch, expert in respiratory diseases and influenza at ECDC. This keynote talk was dedicated to the ECDC management of COVID-19 surveillance in the EU and its impact on influenza surveillance.
To wrap up the meeting, Javier Diez-Domingo presented the DRIVE study platform scale-up (from 5 study sites in 5 European countries during 2017/18, to 15 study sites in 7 countries in the current year), and the adaptation for COVID-19 in the coming 2020/21 season.
“Building on existing influenza infrastructure to monitor and evaluate future COVID-19 vaccines”
The second session of the DRIVE Annual Forum webinars, that took place on the 24th of September, was focused on DRIVE sustainability in the COVID-19 era and included external talks from representatives of the major institutions in the field:
- Marco Cavalieri (European Medicines Agency)
- Miriam Sturkenboom (VAC4EU, ACCESS project)
- Hector Izurieta (U.S Food and Drug Administration)
“Involving experts from different continents is a unique opportunity to level up the debate on the impact of different study designs on monitoring seasonal influenza vaccine effectiveness. It was also important to discuss the implications of the present COVID-19 epidemic on these estimations”, concluded Dr. Hanna Nohynek from the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare THL, Finland.
The Annual Forum finished with a roundtable to continue with the discussions held between the aforementioned representatives from EMA, VAC4EU and FDA, along with DRIVE consortium members from FISABIO, Sanofi and THL. The roundtable generated a fruitful debate on 6 key questions regarding DRIVE’s position in the current influenza vaccine effectiveness studies landscape. Some of the topics discussed:
- Do we need brand specific vaccine effectiveness in Europe? What are the alternatives to the DRIVE platform and how can they be aligned with EU regulatory principles?
- PPP hesitancy shares a lot of similarities with vaccine hesitancy. It is mainly driven by impressions. How can we overcome this barrier?
- Based on the project so far, do you believe that this multi-stakeholder approach has jeopardised or improved the scientific robustness of the work?
- Who could host the study platform after DRIVE stops receiving IMI funding?
“DRIVE has been a difficult journey but we can now be proud of having a well-functioning platform developing the first ever multi-manufacturer performance measurements for vaccines”, concluded Cédric Mahé, from Sanofi Pasteur.
The DRIVE Project has received funding from the Innovative Medicines Initiative 2 Joint Undertaking under grant agreement No 777363. This Joint Undertaking receives support from the European Union´s Horizon 2020 research and innovation and EFPIA.