On Monday, UAntwerp and the IMM / Unity consortium gave the symbolic starting shot for the construction of Vaccinopolis. On March 1, 2022, the doors of the innovative center will open, where candidate vaccines will be tested. “The world really needs this infrastructure,” says founder Pierre Van Damme.
Vaccine development is one of the greatest global challenges today. “Corona has really put us face to face with the facts,” explains vaccinologist Pierre Van Damme (UAntwerpen). “But this realization has been around for some time. The climate is changing, people are living closer together, we travel more and more and we are getting older: all evolutions that contribute to a faster and wider spread of viruses. ”
The University of Antwerp has had plans for the establishment of an innovative vaccine center for some time. Corona accelerated things: the federal government is investing 20 million euros in the establishment of a European anti-infection unit, with specialized infrastructure in Antwerp (UAntwerpen) and in Brussels (Université Libre de Bruxelles). Private partners also contribute.
Vaccinopolis, which is being built on Campus Drie Eiken, will be a unique academic testing facility on the European mainland. The complex will have thirty beds and CHIM studies will be carried out. CHIM stands for Controlled Human Infection Models.
Van Damme: "One also speaks of 'human challenge' research, because we actually 'challenge' healthy test subjects, after administration of the vaccine or placebo, by exposing them to a weakened version of a certain pathogen, or to the original pathogen as soon as effective therapy is available. Thanks to these innovative studies, vaccines can be developed and tested more quickly, and the method is also relatively inexpensive. "
“For mutant strains - very topical - it will then be possible to quickly ascertain whether the recently developed vaccines are still the right answer. There is a real need for such infrastructure: we continue to receive requests for new vaccine studies. We are currently still carrying them at our old location. ”
Time capsule in the ground
Monday, January 25, the symbolic first shovel went into the ground. Van Damme was assisted by rector Herman Van Goethem and general manager Bart Heijnen. On behalf of the construction consortium, IMM / Unity Koen Coekelbergs, project director of Jansen Cleanrooms, and Kevin De Hainaut, CEO of Cordeel Zetel Temse, rolled up their sleeves. Together they concreted a time capsule with a message to the future Earthlings. That message, which is addressed to the people of the year 2521 and tells about the impact of corona on our society, was written by sociologist Walter Weyns (UAntwerpen).
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