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Pathogens and pandemics, WHO updates the list

WHO has launched a global scientific project to update the list of priority pathogens that could cause outbreaks or pandemics. The aim is to serve as a benchmark for investment, research and development (R&D) worldwide, particularly in the field of vaccines, screening tests and treatments.

For this purpose and as reported by the WHO (World Health Organization) itself, more than 300 scientists have met to examine the available evidence on more than 25 families of viruses and bacteria, as well as on the so-called “disease X », which appears on the list of pathogens.

With the designation of disease X, the United Nations health organization refers to an unknown pathogen with the capacity to trigger a serious international epidemic.

Experts will recommend a list of priority pathogens for which further research and investment is required.

The criteria used will be scientific and public health, but will also relate to socio-economic impact, access and equity.

The list was first published in 2017 and the most recent priority-setting exercise took place in 2018.

The current one includes covid-19, hemorrhagic fever of Crimea-Congo, Ebola and Marburg virus disease, Lassa fever, Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).

Also severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Nipah virus disease and henipavirus infections, Rift Valley fever, Zika and the aforementioned X disease.

The doctor Michael Ryan, Executive Director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, has pointed out that in order to respond quickly and effectively to epidemics and pandemics “it is essential to focus on the priority pathogens and families of viruses on which to investigate and obtain countermeasures. Without the significant R&D investments made before the covid-19 pandemic, we would not have been able to manufacture safe and effective vaccines in record time.”

Thanks to the WHO R&D Project on Epidemics, R&D roadmaps are developed for the pathogens identified as priorities, to indicate knowledge gaps and priorities for research.

In this way, scientists and manufacturers can know what are the characteristics of vaccines, diagnostic tests and drugs that need to be obtained.

Likewise, and according to the WHO, an attempt is made to catalog, summarize and facilitate the carrying out of the clinical trials necessary to develop these products.

On the other hand, the possibility of expanding the activities to ethical and regulatory issues is being studied.

For the doctor Soumya Swaminathan, WHO Scientific Directorthis list of priority pathogens has become a point of reference for researchers to know where to focus their energies to address the next threat.

According to the expert, the list is drawn up in consultation with specialists and sets the pathogens in which researchers around the world must invest money and energy to obtain tests, treatments and vaccines.

WHO LIST OF PATHOGENS
EFE/Carlos Ortega

Pathogens and pandemics: Roadmap to the list

Experts will recommend a list of priority pathogens that need more research and investment.

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

Research and development roadmaps will be developed for the pathogens identified as priorities, outlining knowledge gaps and research areas.

Desired specifications for vaccines, treatments and diagnostic tests will also be determinedwhen relevant.

In addition, scientists will make an effort to map, collect and facilitate clinical trials to develop these tools.

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

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