The World Health Organization (WHO) is working to create an updated list of priority pathogens that may cause future outbreaks or pandemics, the UN agency said on Monday.
The WHO is gathering more than 300 scientists to examine the evidence for more than 25 families of viruses and bacteria, as well as “disease X,” which refers to an unknown pathogen that could cause a serious international epidemic.
The process began on Friday and will lead to global investment and research and development (R&D), particularly in vaccines, tests and treatments.
Essential for quick response
The list of priority pathogens was first published in 2017 and includes COVID-19, Ebola virus disease, Lassa fever, Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Rift Valley fever, Zika and “Disease X”.
“Focusing on priority pathogens and virus families for research and development of countermeasures is essential necessary for a quick and effective response to epidemics and pandemicssaid Dr. Michael Ryan, Executive Director of WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme.
“Without significant R&D investment prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, yes was not possible to develop safe and effective vaccines in record time,” he added.
Plan for research
Experts will recommend a list of priority pathogens that require further research and investment.
This process includes both scientific and public health criteria, as well as criteria related to socio-economic impact, access and equity.
Research and development plans are drawn up for pathogens identified as priority, highlighting gaps in knowledge and research areas.
Where appropriate, the required specifications for vaccines, treatments and diagnostic tests are also set out.
Efforts are also underway to map, benchmark and facilitate clinical trials to develop these tools.
The revised list is expected to be published in early 2023.