The World Health Organization said on Monday it was thrashing out a new list of priority pathogens that risk sparking pandemics or outbreaks and need to be kept under close observation.
The WHO said the aim was to update a list used to guide global research and development (R&D) and investment, especially in vaccines, tests and treatments.
As part of that process, which started on Friday, the United Nations health agency is convening over 300 scientists to consider evidence on more than 25 virus families and bacteria.
They will also consider the so-called “Disease X” — an unknown pathogen that could cause a serious international epidemic.
“Targeting priority pathogens and virus families for research and development of countermeasures is essential for a fast and effective epidemic and pandemic response,” said WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan.
“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.”
The list was first published in 2017.
It currently includes Covid-19, Ebola virus disease and Marburg virus disease, Lassa fever, Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Nipah, Zika and Disease X.
For each pathogen identified as a priority, experts will pinpoint knowledge gaps and research priorities.
Desired specifications for vaccines, treatments and diagnostic tests can then be drawn up.
Efforts are also made to facilitate clinical trials to develop such tools, while efforts 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,” WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan explained.
“It is developed together with experts in the field and is the agreed direction for where we — as a global research community — need to invest energy and funds.”
The revised list is expected to be published before April 2023.