IVI specialists transfer to Swissmedic Consolidating veterinary medicinal product expertise

On 1 January 2023, the Institute for Virology and Immunology’s (IVI’s) specialist immunological veterinary medicinal products unit (including pet and livestock vaccines) migrated from the Institute to Swissmedic. We visited Isabelle Zaugg, the new head of Unit 1 of the Veterinary Medicines Division.

Suddenly, we get a view of the valley in all its radiance, with the sunshine gleaming on the green meadows. Isabelle Zaugg lives on a chain of hills in a house surrounded by rich pastures and with a view of the Alps.

Steep steps take us through the garden and onto the well kept terrace. A few cats peer out from behind wooden benches. The chicken run is still empty, but it won’t be long before its inhabitants arrive. In the adjacent enclosure, four alpacas observe the visitors from afar.

Having grown up with them, the newly appointed head of Unit 1 in Swissmedic's Veterinary Medicines Division loves animals. “I’ve had animals around me for as long as I can remember and I’ve been committed to their wellbeing my whole life”, she tells us enthusiastically. “I see it as a privilege to be able to work for them too.”

“Above all, we’re trying to ensure that vets get access to vaccines as quickly as possible.”
Isabelle Zaugg

Isabelle Zaugg now works in Swissmedic’s Veterinary Medicines Division. She was transferred from the Institute for Virology and Immunology with effect from 1 January 2023, when authorisation, market surveillance and batch release of immunological veterinary medicinal products were transferred to Swissmedic. “My interaction with Swissmedic managers during the transfer project, which lasted one year, was very constructive. Everyone was pulling in the same direction, and that impressed me a lot.” ­Isabelle Zaugg was made to feel welcome straight away and was introduced to some of her new colleagues prior to the actual transfer during a kick-off meeting. “There was a lively dialogue between us right from the outset. Everyone was very positive about integration and looking forward to it”, Isabelle Zaugg recalls.

At the same time as overseeing immunological veterinary medicinal products throughout their entire life cycle, she took up a new role at Swissmedic, primarily because batch release and market surveillance were assigned to other sectors. “My team is mainly responsible for veterinary vaccine authorisation and vigilance. During the transfer process, I had to make sure that all data were transferred compliantly from the IVI to Swissmedic. Now our task is to continue to develop the organisation, its structures and our knowledge.”

Isabelle Zaugg
Isabelle Zaugg

But why was the entire sector transferred from the IVI to Swissmedic in the first place? There are various reasons for this, as Isabelle Zaugg explains: “The IVI was responsible for authorising and monitoring veterinary vaccines for historical reasons because quality assurance and batch release used to involve laboratory and animal testing. The IVI had the knowledge and infrastructure to do that.” Under modern-day guidelines, animal testing is subject to the 3Rs – replace, reduce and refine. “This is an area where we follow the guidelines of the European Pharmacopoeia, which provides quality standards for the entire pharmaceutical industry in Europe. That allows us to move increasingly away from in vivo – in other words animal – testing and replace it with in vitro laboratory testing”, Isabelle Zaugg explains. “Nowadays we tend to work more with molecular techniques because they’re generally more accurate. A further reason for the transfer was to improve public service levels and simplify processes. Finally, we’re trying to ensure that vets get access to vaccines as quickly as possible. Our standardised, efficient processes allow us to ensure that we authorise effective, safe, high-quality vaccines.”

Swissmedic is responsible for human and veterinary medicinal products. That being so, it makes sense for the Agency to be responsible for immunological veterinary medicinal products too. Since it is a relatively large organisation with experts in different specialist fields, it is easier to exploit synergies, particularly because of the huge amount of specialist knowledge and close links with external agencies. To take one example: “Swissmedic now has a specialist group for vaccines, which brings together people from various divisions and sectors”, Isabelle Zaugg explains. “That means we can discuss issues associated with both human and veterinary vaccines at any time.”

Dialogue within and outside the organisation is important, given that the biggest challenge is the breakneck speed of scientific progress (as in novel treatments, for example). “It’s crucial that we continuously develop our knowledge, and regular dialogue with partner authorities in other countries is another way of helping us to stay up to date on all fronts”, Isabelle explains. There is frequent dialogue with the UK Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD), but there is also regular contact with European partner authorities.

In the meantime, the four alpacas have become curious and are keen to know who has dared to enter their enclosure. Time for Isabelle Zaugg to tend to her four special friends. After feeding and stroking them, she uses a hose to give them a cooling shower, something the animals visibly enjoy. “Animals need their routine, just like we do”, the biologist explains, before releasing the alpacas back into their meadow.

Finally, Isabelle Zaugg looks back nostalgically at­ ­her days at the IVI. “I used to be more of an all-rounder, so I was involved in all processes in the life cycle of immunological veterinary medicinal products. Now I specialise in authorisation, so a few things pass me by.” This means she has to ask her new colleagues for information on batch release and market monitoring. “We’re in frequent contact since I like to make sure that I’m still up-to-date on everything that’s happening with veterinary medicinal products.”