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07 Nov 2018

Professor Sharon Lewin visits the Institut Pasteur’s international network in Paris, Korea and Cambodia

Doherty Institute Director Professor Sharon Lewin recently returned from Paris, Cambodia and Korea, where she visited the Institue Pasteur’s international network. There, she met with the new director of the Pasteur Institute, Professor Stewart Cole, signed an Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Institut Pasteur Korea and explored opportunities to establish and strengthen collaborations, as part of our strategic plan and supported by the Doherty Institute Scientific Advisory Board. She shares her insights from the trip. 

The Institut Pasteur Korea is based in Seoul and was established in 2004. It’s main strength is drug discovery, including using a level three laboratory where they are able to screen an infected cell-line for drug activity, a technique which I’m not aware exists in Australia. One of their recent achievements includes developing a tuberculosis drug a few years ago.

They work on influenza, hepatitis B (HBV) and dengue, so we have a lot of aligned interests and they are very keen to work with us.

Two interesting highlights from my visit to Korea include the biotech park in which the Institut Pasteur is situated. I learned there are plenty of incentives from the Korean Government for commercialisation.

The second aspect I found really interesting was the impact of the MERS outbreak (2015) and what happened locally. There was a dramatic increase in funding for infectious diseases following that outbreak, restructuring how emergency response to infectious diseases is managed – it had a huge impact on Korea.

Professor Sharon Lewin presenting to staff from Institut Pasteur Korea.
Professor Sharon Lewin presenting to staff from Institut Pasteur Korea.

I then headed to Cambodia where I visited the Institut Pasteur in Phnom Penh, which is more established than the Seoul outpost, having been opened in 1953. However there was an interruption when they closed from 1975 to 1985 during the Khmer Rouge, when all staff were killed and all buildings were destroyed.

Now, they have fantastic infrastructure and like in Seoul, work in complementary areas with us, antimicrobial resistance (AMR), HIV, HBV and flu.

They already collaborate a lot with the WHO Collaborating Centre for Research and Reference in Influenza here, they also host the National Reference Influenza Laboratory in Cambodia. In addition to this well-established relationship, they are very keen on strengthening work on AMR. They have a good diagnostic laboratory, but no research or genomics. We are looking at opportunities or ways we might partner with them, particularly through the Microbiological Diagnostic Unit. They are also keen to partner in clinical trials for HIV and HBV. Interestingly the Australian Government through the Indo-Pacific Centre for Health Security are in the process of establishing a base in Asia and they have a few staff already based in Cambodia.

I attended a lunch at the residence of Australian Ambassador, her Excellency Angela Corcoran, along with a number of leading Cambodian health bureaucrats and two young Australian scientists working in Cambodia. This included one of the Doherty Institute PhD students Annika Suttie who is normally based at the WHO Influenza Centre.

I also gave a talk at the Health Sciences University while in Cambodia, which included all the medical students and senior representatives from the Ministry of Health, and the French and Australian embassies.

This trip was all about strengthening partnerships with neighboring institutes that are working on aligned research priorities so we can have a greater impact in the region. We signed an MOU with the Institut Pasteur several years ago, but this was the first time I’ve had the chance to go and visit their international network – I’m really looking forward to working together with the Cambodian and Korean Instituts Pasteur towards our vision to improve health globally.

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