In an effort to identify agents that can cause future outbreaks or pandemics, the World Health Organization (WHO) will launch a global scientific process to update the list of priority pathogens.
This will also help in guiding global investment, research and development (R&D), especially in vaccines, tests and treatments. In a statement, the WHO on Monday said the initiative gained momentum on this with a meeting held last Friday.
What’s the aim behind updating the priority pathogens list?
The global health body will convene over 300 scientists who will consider the evidence on over 25 virus families and bacteria, as well as “Disease X.”
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Disease X will be included in the list indicating an unknown pathogen that could trigger a serious international epidemic. The list of priority pathogens will be suggested by experts that need further research and investment. The process will comprise scientific and public health criteria including socioeconomic impact, access, and equity.
When was such a list published before?
Such a list was initially published in 2017 and the last prioritization exercise was done in 2018.
The current list includes Covid-19, Ebola virus disease and Marburg virus disease, Crimean-Cong haemorrhagic fever, Lassa fever, Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Nipah and henipaviral diseases, Rift Valley fever, Zika and Disease X.
“Targeting priority pathogens and virus families for research and development of countermeasures is essential for a fast and effective epidemic and pandemic response. Without significant R&D investments prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, it would not have been possible to have safe and effective vaccines developed in record time,” said Dr Michael Ryan, executive director of WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme.
After the identification of pathogens as a priority, the WHO R&D Blueprint for epidemics develops R&D roadmaps that lay out the knowledge gaps and research priorities.
The relevant, target product profiles will help in informing developers about the desired specifications for vaccines, treatments and diagnostic tests, are developed.
There will be efforts to map, compile and facilitate clinical trials to develop these tools. Complimentary efforts – such as to strengthen regulatory and ethics oversight – are also considered.
“This list of priority pathogens has become a reference point for the research community on where to focus energies to manage the next threat,” said Soumya Swaminathan, WHO chief scientist.
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