WHO: Zika Virus Spreading, R&D Needs Financing, Sample Sharing Discussed 08/03/2016 by Catherine Saez, Intellectual Property Watch 5 Comments Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)The World Health Organization said today that evidence of the relationship between the Zika virus and neonatal malformations and neurological disorders is growing stronger, and that the virus is spreading geographically. The Emergency Committee set up by the WHO at a gathering today issued advice to the WHO director general, including warning pregnant women to avoid travelling to Zika infected countries. Meanwhile, discussions are ongoing on the sharing of the samples of the virus, and on the question of benefit-sharing. And a call was made for research and development to intensify. Today’s Emergency Committee meeting on Zika/neurological syndromes The second meeting of the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee on Zika virus met today by teleconference. The 2007 International Health Regulations (IHRs) are an international legal instrument that is binding on 196 countries and aim at helping the international community prevent and respond to acute public health risks that have the potential to cross borders and threaten the global population, according to the WHO. The IHRs “define the rights and obligations of countries to report public health events, and establish a number of procedures that WHO must follow in its work to uphold global public health security.” During a press briefing held this evening, WHO Director General Margaret Chan said “substantial new clinical and epidemiological research has strengthened the association between Zika infection and the occurrence of foetal malformations and neurological disorders.” R&D Priority, Virus-Sharing, Benefit-Sharing The committee also recommended that research and development efforts should be intensified for Zika virus vaccines and therapeutics in the medium term. Intellectual Property Watch asked a question about who is expected to undertake such research, with what financing, and if there is any issue about sharing the virus from infected countries with research centres and industry. David Heymann, chair of the Emergency Committee replied that providing companies working on potential vaccines with what they need to undertake research must be done in compliance with the UN Convention on Biological Diversity and its Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization, as well as the WHO framework for the sharing of benefits, he said. On the latter, he was referring to the WHO Pandemic Influenza Preparedness (PIP) Framework, which is meant to improve the sharing of influenza viruses with human pandemic potential, and to increase the access of developing countries to vaccines and other pandemic-related supplies, according to the WHO. There need to be discussions with industry about vaccines, Heymann said, making sure that the benefits are made available with countries sharing the virus. It is a very long-term goal, he said. “We can be pleased that the WHO has been able to at least strike an agreement for the sharing of the influenza virus in the past and that this serves as a format on how to move ahead,” he said. WHO R&D Landscaping Meeting Chan said that on 7-9 March, the WHO is organising a research and development meeting to do a landscaping of the potential vaccines, diagnostics, and other therapeutics, “so work is ongoing.” She said during her recent visit to Brazil, it seemed clear that “the government is working very closely with the NIH (United States National Institutes of Health) working with the University of Texas,” as well as Brazilian institutions, and these are already in different stages of development of a vaccine, including with the use of a Dengue vaccine, she said. A lot of work is ongoing but it is important to say that the first available vaccine for clinical trial will not be ready for months or maybe the next year or two, she said. “We don’t expect to see an immediate solution from vaccines,” she added. Financing is a collaboration between governments and industry, Chan said, adding that she currently has no information on how the research will be financed. Chan said that the Brazilian government is “very prepared” to work with the US entities and government in sharing samples of the Zika virus so they can work on diagnostics and vaccines. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has committed to work through WHO and share specimens with other countries as well, Chan said. Chan also mentioned the PIP Framework in the context of virus and benefit sharing. She further said that is it important that scientists working together should have joint authorship should they have any article published by a scientific journal. This is very important for scientists in middle and lower-income countries, she said. “They also would like to learn and excel over time,” she said, so the sharing of virus is not only about the virus but also linked to the sharing of benefits as well as joint authorship in scientific journals. Virus Spreading, Growing Evidence of Neurological Effects The virus is spreading geographically, Chan said, the risk group is broader, and it is now established that modes of transmission include sexual intercourse as well as mosquito bites. Some 31 countries and territories have reported local transmission in Latin America and the Caribbean, she said, and imported cases of Zika have been reported from all regions in the world, she added. Evidence has shown that the virus can cross the placenta barrier and infect the foetus, preferentially affecting tissues in the brain. Microcephaly, which describes a condition where babies are born with a very small head, is only one of documented pregnancy problems linked to Zika infection, such as miscarriage, stillbirth or termination of pregnancy. It also can lead to foetal death, placenta insufficiency, and injury to the central nervous system. According to Chan, to date, microcephaly has been documented in French Polynesia and Brazil. Surveillance is ongoing in other countries, such as Colombia, she said. Growing evidence of a link with Guillain-Barré syndrome is documented, she said, which expands the group at risk of complications beyond women of child-bearing age. Guillan-Barré syndrome is a condition where a person’s immune system attacks their peripheral nerves. According to a statement about the second meeting of the Emergency Committee, recommendations of the committee include intensified research into the relationship between new clusters of microcephaly and other neurological disorders, and suggested to enhance and standardise surveillance of microcephaly and Guillain-Barré syndrome. The committee said there should be no general restrictions on travel or trade with countries, areas and territories with Zika virus transmission but pregnant women should be advised not to travel to areas of ongoing Zika virus outbreaks. 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