Review of ANRS | Emerging Infectious Diseases activities in response to the COVID-19 epidemic in 2021

Following on from the work in 2020 of REACTing and ANRS, which enabled the funding and coordination of numerous COVID-19 research projects, in 2021 the national agency ANRS | Emerging Infectious Diseases was created to lead, coordinate, evaluate and fund research on HIV-AIDS and STIs, viral hepatitis and tuberculosis.

The agency will also lead the deployment of the French response and preparedness to emerging infectious diseases. In support of research teams located in France and in LMICs, to help improve their response to the COVID-19 crisis, ANRS | Emerging Infectious Diseases has carried out a number of flagship initiatives.

Supporting COVID-19 research in France

In 2020, the French Ministries of Research and Health created a regulatory mechanism to prioritize high-potential research projects on SARS-CoV-2 and accelerate their implementation. The ANRS | Emerging Infectious Diseases COVID-19 Scientific Committee is in charge of defining these research priorities, which are revised every 6 months (see table). With this mechanism in place, COVID-related research projects can be evaluated continuously throughout the year; of the 150 projects assessed, 69 were granted a National Research Priority Label. This system of evolving research priorities also makes it possible to adapt the themes of the Agency’s Calls for Projects (CFP) based on identified gaps. A CFP specifically dedicated to Long COVID was launched in December 2021.

Research priorities as defined by the COVID-19 Scientific Committee

  • Priority 1: Treatment & post-exposure prophylaxis
  • Priority 2: Vaccine strategies and programs
  • Priority 3: Prevention and control of the epidemic through non-drug interventions
  • Priority 4: Transmission & dynamics of SARS-CoV2 infection
  • Priority 5: Understanding the medium- and long-term consequences of the pandemic
  • Priority 6: Analysis of French and international public policies, including measures to manage the epidemic

Research infrastructure networks supported by ANRS | Emerging Infectious Diseases

Early in 2021, ANRS | Emerging Infectious Diseases and Santé publique France, the national institution in charge of epidemic surveillance, created and co-coordinated the French consortium EMERGEN to deploy the nationwide genomic surveillance system for SARS-CoV-2. To support this consortium, the Ministry of Research has recently allocated €10M to fund 15 research projects and one infrastructure strengthening project.

The I-REIVAC/COVIREIVAC platform, coordinated by Inserm, the French Research Infrastructure Network (F-CRIN) and, for the operational side, the Public Hospitals of Paris (AP-HP), brings together a network of 32 university hospital centers and 11 immunology laboratories to conduct clinical vaccine research in France and better understand new vaccines. ANRS | Emerging Infectious Diseases is sponsoring and coordinating two vaccine studies as part of that research.

At the European level, under the Horizon 2020 Program, ANRS | Emerging Infectious Diseases is participating in the EU-RESPONSE project, which aims to build a European network of adaptive trials to accelerate the fight against COVID-19 and other emerging infectious diseases. The Agency also coordinates pharmacovigilance for EU-Response trials, such as DisCoVeRy in 2020 and EU-SolidAct in 2021 (phase I/II trial conducted in 16 countries).

ANRS | Emerging Infectious Diseases also launched AFROSCREEN in July 2021 in collaboration with the French National Research Institute for Sustainable Development (IRD), Institut Pasteur, Inserm and over 25 laboratories in 13 African countries. AFROSCREEN is a sequencing capacity-building project to detect and monitor SARS-CoV-2 and other emerging pathogens in Africa.

International initiatives and research funding

Projects and research themes supported in LMICs (2021)
Projects and research themes supported in LMICs (2021)

At the international level, ANRS | Emerging Infectious Diseases has led the COVID-19 LMICs Taskforce since 2020, along with IRD. This initiative coordinates research projects carried out by French teams with their international partners, aiming to evaluate the impact of the epidemic in LMICs; in 2021, it provided a key platform for information sharing and coordination on COVID-19 research. ANRS | Emerging Infectious Diseases also participates in the Team Europe Initiative on “Health Security through a One Health approach in Sub-Saharan Africa” coordinated by the European Commission, along with the Africa CDC and other European stakeholders. This initiative supports existing capacity building projects in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Several funding processes have been used since 2020 to finance research projects on COVID-19 in LMICs. The first Call For Projects provided funding for 30 research projects in 2020 and identified clear scientific gaps. This led to more targeted support in 2021 with a second CFP and the subsequent funding of 6 new projects (in addition to 7 projects not covered by this CFP).

Out of all active international projects in 2021, research on COVID-19 represented 1/3 of the projects funded by the Agency (see table).

Continuing the fight against emerging diseases

In 2022, ANRS | Emerging Infectious Diseases will be in charge of coordinating the EID Priority Program on behalf of the French Ministry of Higher Education and Research, which is designed to prevent and control infectious diseases, anticipating emerging phenomena in human populations based on cooperation among all French research institutions.  Beyond spearheading the French response to the COVID epidemic, the Agency will also focus on defining research priorities and approaches to combat all emerging diseases in France and internationally.

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The GloPID-R Secretariat is a project which receives funding from the European Union’s Horizon Europe research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 101094188.