In the wake of the 2014 Ebola outbreak, a team of Duke students is working to improve global response time to the spread of infectious diseases.

Undergraduate students in the Innovation and Technology Policy Lab, a Bass Connections project team, hosted a conference Nov. 18 at the Duke in Washington Office to create a platform for a contract between a number of organizations—including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Health Organization and the European Union—to promote the rapid development of essential vaccines.

Sophomore Courtney Scoufis, a member of the team, noted that bringing together the resources of several different organizations would allow for speedier treatment development in response to disease outbreaks.

“[The team's] goal is to provide a list of terms that different pharmaceutical companies and funding agencies can agree to in order to work together in cases of emergency," Scoufis said.

As part of the project, team members spent this Fall researching patterning responses to the Ebola outbreak.

“This included interviewing representatives from biotech companies who were involved in the Ebola outbreak, analyzing contractual language in alliance formation and organizing our conference in DC,” said sophomore team member Christina Langmack. "The DC conference was the start to what we hope will be an open, continued conversation between global health players."

Langmack noted that students are currently planning a symposium this Spring to build on the work they did last semester.

Representatives of the National Institutes of Health, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services were also in attendance, along with major pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies such as Merck, Wellcome Trust and Bavarian Nordic. Attendees at the conference worked on the foundation for a contract by defining what constitutes an emergency infectious disease outbreak.

Senior Julia Tuttle, the team's student coordinator, explained that the wide variety of inputs was an important element of the conference.

“We were able to meet with key parties involved in our research topic, including representatives from large pharmaceutical companies, small biotech manufacturers, government agencies responsible for funding and procurement and major global health funding agencies,” Tuttle said.

A key aspect in advancing the development of a vaccine is the legal negotiation needed to represent each entity’s interests, Tuttle noted.

“In the case of Ebola, these negotiations were especially complicated because the multi-stakeholder alliances formed were unprecedented and required innovative approaches,” she said.

To combat the delays that often arise when trying to reach an agreement in times of emergency, the team drafted a guide to key provisions necessary in forming partnerships during these types of situations. The meeting’s attendees each contributed to the guide and will have access to the guide when entering in any future negotiations.

“Looking forward, our goals are to offer a set of resources that will allow successes to be recreated and find creative strategies to combat challenges," Langmack said. "One approach we took for this purpose was to create a practical set of important contractual clauses for the formation of global health public and private partnerships."