WHO involvement in Zika R&D
WHO is currently mapping existing R&D for Zika in order to prioritize medical products and approaches that should be fast-tracked into development. These will be reviewed by expert advisory committees as soon as possible. As of today, most research that could be useful for Zika has been carried out on other flaviviruses – such as dengue or yellow fever.
Diagnostics are a top urgency in order to ascertain the presence of the Zika virus as opposed to other similar diseases caused by flaviviruses with mosquito vectors. Very few test are available. A call to interested companies and other groups was issued on 5 February to submit potential products to the WHO ‘Emergency Assessment and Listing’ procedure. This procedure, once a product has been accepted, guarantees acceptable levels of quality and performance and allows UN agencies, NGOs and countries to procure the product with confidence.
There are at least 12 groups working on Zika vaccines; all are in the early stages of development and availability of licensed products could take a few years.
Some studies are being carried out on prophylactic therapeutics that would work in the same way as prophylaxis for malaria.
Fogging followed by the controlled release of genetically modified mosquitoes may be worth considering for halting the spread of Zika.
WHO is also working on:
- Establishing regulatory support networks to fast-track approval of clinical trials in countries
- Advocacy on timely samples and data sharing among groups undertaking R&D studies on Zika, to ensure the best science is brought to bear on research and development.
WHO’s R&D efforts on Zika are part of the overall work on a roadmap – the R&D Blueprint - for better R&D preparedness based on the experience of the R&D work carried out during the West-Africa Ebola outbreak. The roadmap will enable roll-out of an emergency R&D response as early and as efficiently as possible for emerging diseases for which there are no, or few, countermeasures. In December 2015, WHO held a consultation to identify a short-list of pathogens to be prioritized immediately for R&D preparedness. Zika was identified as a serious risk, needing further action as soon as possible.