The WHO is convening experts to identify new pathogens that can cause pandemics


The WHO is convening more than 300 scientists who will consider the evidence on more than 25 virus families and bacteria, as well as “Disease X”, which points to an unknown pathogen that could cause a serious international epidemic.

The process started Friday and will guide global investment and research and development (R&D), especially in vaccines, tests and treatments.

Indispensable for a 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”.

“It targets priority pathogens and virus families for countermeasure research and development essential for a rapid and effective response to epidemics and pandemicssaid Dr Michael Ryan, Executive Director of WHO’s Health Emergency Programme.

“Without significant investment in R&D prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, it would not been possible to develop safe and effective vaccines in record time,” he added.

Step-by-step plan for research

The experts will recommend a list of priority pathogens that need further research and investment.

The process includes both scientific and public health criteria, as well as criteria related to socio-economic impact, access and equity.

R&D roadmaps will be developed for the pathogens identified as priority, identifying knowledge gaps and research areas.

Also, where relevant, desired specifications for vaccines, treatments and diagnostic tests are determined.

Efforts will also be made to map, compile and facilitate clinical trials to develop these tools.

The revised list is expected to be published in early 2023.

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