This week, doctors and scientists from the World Health Organization (WHO) met for the first time to define the new list of viruses and bacteria with the potential to cause a new pandemic and, therefore, should be prioritized in the area of global research and development. (R&D).
The final publication of the WHO pathogens list should be published by the end of April 2023. As has been the case since 2017, the document will guide investments in the areas of vaccines, tests and treatments, which, in theory, could reduce the effects of local outbreak, if it occurs. This would prevent a new infectious agent or an old agent that has mutated from triggering a pandemic.
“Targeting priority pathogens and virus families for research and development of countermeasures is essential for a rapid and effective response to epidemics and pandemics,” said WHO director of emergencies Michael Ryan in a statement.
How does the WHO investigate which viruses and bacteria could cause the next pandemic?
To estimate the risk of new pathogens causing a new pandemic, the WHO recruited more than 300 scientists who will review research on the subject and raise new scientific evidence. Initially, the select group must consider 25 families of infectious agents, including the emerging Disease X — whose cause is still unknown, but the symptoms resemble those caused by the Ebola virus.
In this year’s list, the researchers considered, among other pathogens, covid-19, Ebola virus disease, Marburg virus disease, Lassa fever, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. (SARS).
It is important to emphasize that “this list of priority pathogens has become a reference point for the scientific community on where to focus energies to manage the next threat”, adds Soumya Swaminathan, chief scientist of the WHO.