The UK government should create a National Institute for Infectious Diseases (NIID) that integrates research into diseases affecting humans and animals, says the Royal Society.

This “joined-up” approach would “lead to overall improvements in public health and decrease response times against major infectious-disease incidents”, the Society claims. Pandemics are “costly, both economically and in terms of life, be it livestock or human life”, pointed out Professor Kenneth Gull, who chaired a recent meeting of experts in human and veterinary disease from academia and industry at the Royal Society.

The NIID could focus on basic and applied research in animal and human diseases, with the capacity to respond to national emergencies through surveillance, control and eradication, the Society suggests. It would also enable scientists to draw on a common pool of knowledge between the human and veterinary sectors and to exploit opportunities presented by animal disease science for insights into human medicine.

At present, the Society notes, there is “confusion” over which government department has overall policy responsibility for a number of infectious diseases affecting both humans and animals. “If we are to be able to respond quickly to outbreaks in animals and humans, we will need effective joined-up organisational structures and policies in place,” Gull commented.

He also stressed the economic benefits of a preventative approach. “The cost of funding research now will be far less than the cost of dealing with a pandemic that we are not prepared for,” Gull warned.