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Network of expertise on animal influenza

OIE - World Organization for Animal HealthFAO - Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

Minutes of the OFFLU Steering Committee Meetings

Summary - OFFLU Steering Committee teleconference 20 th April 2011, 1.30 – 5.00 pm (Paris time) at OIE Headquarters, Paris


Steering Committee (SC) members:  Steve Edwards (OFFLU Chairman), Gerrit Viljoen, Cristobal Zepeda, Gideon Bruckner. 

Other participants:  Peter Daniels, Gwenaelle Dauphin, Keith Hamilton, Gounalan Pavade, Filip Claes, Liz Mumford (WHO), Sara Martins (WHO), David Swayne

The minutes from the previous Steering Committee meeting held in  Vienna on 13th July, 2010 were agreed.

Actions from previous meeting (July 13th 2010):

Action GD: To clarify the legal status of OFFLU within FAO.

Action KH: To find another volunteer to draft the influenza surveillance in poultry chapter for the OFFLU surveillance strategy document.

Progress on OFFLU Technical Activities (TAs):

OFFLU TAs are progressing well and delivering results.

Action KH: The TAs on proficiency testing and ring trials should be merged.

Laboratories should be encouraged to use a common standard and this applies to  an RNA standard. The RNA standard(s) developed by Timm Harder  can be included in the OFFLU proficiency testing panel.

Research has a role to play in informing OIE Standard Setting and research  findings that can contribute to this should be flagged up.

Action DS: Update the OFFLU Research Agenda in line with current research needs every 2 years.

The commercial diagnostic kit TA no longer has a leader. Yet, the activity will be maintained for the time being.

Action GD: OFFLU-FAO to start retrieving validation data on commercial diagnostic kit validation from the ref labs. 

The OFFLU vaccination projects in Egypt and Indonesia are close to ending. Lessons learned and a summary of the outcomes could be put on the OFFLU website and/or published.

Action GD: OFFLU scientists at FAO and OIE to compile results and lessons learned from bothprojects and make them publicly available. 

Laboratory Management  Plan: the capacity building TA members prefer not to cover this activity and suggest addressing it through a different group.

Action Executive Committee:  Define  a TA to work on  a  Laboratory Management  Plan; identify a new leader to the TA on commercial diagnostic tests; decide whether  some training videos are suitable for the OFFLU website.

OFFLU Reporting:

SC Members were pleased with the content, format and length of the OFFLU Annual Report.

Action KH: To disseminate the OFFLU Annual Report at the OIE General Session.

The FAO paper "Evolution of H5N1 worldwide in 2010" is a useful document. The title could be changed to avoid perceived competition with the WHO H5N1 Evolution Working Group.

Action GD: To brand this paper as an OFFLU paper, to update it annually, and publish it on the OFFLU website.

Human – animal interface:

The OFFLU contribution to the WHO Vaccine Composition Meeting (VCM) was a success and OFFLU were acknowledged in the final WHO meeting report.  To avoid a last minute rush and  to  maximise  the  quality of data presented, work on collating the animal health contribution must start well in advance of the next meeting. To ensure better preparedness an SOP based on the ‘list of actions’ arising from previous VCM meeting will be developed by OFFLU in close collaboration with WHO-GIP.

The SC acknowledged the importance of collaborative working to address the complex task of data collection and analysis and the significant inputs provided by the OFFLU Scientists at FAO, OFFLU experts in laboratories, OFFLU Secretariat at OIE, and experts at WHO-GIP and in WHO Collaborating Centres.

WHO can offer invitations to 2 OFFLU representatives who  should include a laboratory leader and someone who is sufficiently ‘technical’ to cope with last minute data analyses.

Action Executive Committee: KH to organise a comprehensive VCM debriefing ahead of the next meeting and to provide a recommended protocol to the Steering Committee.

Action GD/KH: Develop an SOP on OFFLU VCM participation together with lead labs (IB, PD, IC-GC) and WHO (LM). A link to the outcome of the VCM (publicly available on WHO website) to be made on OFFLU website.

A joint WHO-OFFLU project on mutation tracking had been proposed at the July 2010 SCmeeting. This has been put on hold because the breakout group at the OFFLU technical meeting, November 2010, had suggested that it was too complicated.

Action LM:  To work with Timm Harder on refining the scope of this activity and taking it forward in a more workable form.

The WHO Open-Ended Working Group on virus and benefit sharing has finally agreed on a framework for sharing influenza viruses.

OFFLU Statement on Material Transfer Agreements (MTAs) and  the OFFLU  Code of Conduct on Sharing:

OIE and FAO have delivered a statement on the use/non-use of MTAs which has been publicised. An OFFLU Working Group has been established to draft an OFFLU code of conduct on sharing biological material and data. To stand a greater chance of success, the code should be high-level and should avoid being overly prescriptive or detailed. Visibility of the OIE Resolution on avian influenza virus sharing should also be maintained.

Action PD: To take forward the OFFLU Working Group to develop a draft Code of Conduct for virus and data sharing.


The OFFLU Scientists at FAO have developed a way of linking epidemiological data in Empres-i with sequence  data held in the Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics database(OpenFluDB). This interface  can be made available to all sequence databases, but first it needs to be fully validated. The SC endorses the EMPRES-i Genetic Module and states that it is a useful tool and initiative that deserves full support. 

Action GD: To update all on when this interface is available to other sequence databases.

One Flu initiative:

This initiative remains inconclusive at the moment and so far no recommendations or minutes are available from the Castel Brando meeting.

Action GD/KH: Follow-up on outcomes of Castel Brando and any developments related to One Flu.

EFSA push button risk assessment:

Although the meeting with EFSA in March 2011 had been very positive, no feedback has been received yet from EFSA on their call for proposal for the development of a push button risk assessment and the possible involvement of OFFLU in this process. Members of the Steering Committee expressed concern about the technical feasibility of conducting a ‘push button’  risk  assessment  to identify  animal influenza viruses of public health concern.   Such a risk assessment  is  very challenging and risk involves a complexinteraction of host, virological, and environmental factors. There may however be advantages to EFSA and OFFLU developing collaboration on this after reviewing the details.

Action CZ/KH/GD: The OFFLU applied epidemiology group to examine the EFSA proposal for 

a push button risk assessment more closely and provide a recommendation on  OFFLU involvement.

OFFLU technical meeting "to coordinate world-wide surveillance for influenza in pigs":

The meeting was a success. OFFLU should maintain a hand in supervising the network and future meetings. The activity could be termed as a ‘sub-group’ of OFFLU but not a ‘subnetwork’. The next meeting is planned for March 2012.

The SC and PD on behalf of EC stated that there should be active involvement of the OFFLU Scientists in this kind of meeting to give guidance to experts (choice of participants, setting of the agenda/direction of the meeting)

Action KH/GD:  Effective internal and inter-organisational communication on future meetings should be maintained.

OFFLU website:

Members were generally happy with the new OFFLU website, although there was still some room for improvement. 

To maintain balance it is important to have effective and  timely two-way communication between FAO and OIE on website content. An SOP could be developed to ensure that both FAO and OIE endorse what is published and ensure that what gets published on the website reflects both organisations points of view.

Action all: For members to send comments on improvements about the website to the OFFLU Secretariat and for FAO and OIE to maintain effective dialogue.

OFFLU laboratory contacts:

Action Executive Committee: To decide a way forward and draft a list of OFFLU laboratory contacts world-wide.

OFFLU Surveillance Paper:

FAO had recently expressed concerns about lack of involvement in an OFFLU paper "OFFLU review of avian influenza surveillance and epidemiological projects in some European, African, and Asian countries". It was decided that although the study was incomplete, the findings were important and should be  publicised on the OFFLU website. Further constructive comments from FAO that might improve the paper are most welcome.

Action GD: To coordinate and provide comments from FAO on the paper.


For OFFLU to be effective there is a need to have dedicated resources, including officers at both OIE and FAO. There is a need to maintain momentum and continuity.

Action SE: To write a letter to Drs Vallat and Lubroth highlighting the importance of maintaining financial and human resources for OFFLU.

Technical meeting:

The OFFLU technical meeting should take place every 18-24 months. To be effective it should be no larger than the latest technical meeting held in November 2010.

Action Executive Committee: To select a date for the next OFFLU meeting towards the end of 2012. It can be combined with other events gathering OFFLU invitees.

The OFFLU Steering Committee meeting will take place in 6 months (preferably as a face-toface meeting).



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