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.
The list of priority pathogens was first published in 2017 and includes Covid-19, Ebola virus disease, Lassa fever, Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Marburg virus disease, Nipah, Zika and “Disease X.”
“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.”
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.