Key Research Areas
© trichopcmu - Fotolia.com
Zika is a mosquito-borne viral disease caused by the Zika virus (ZIKV) that has spread through the South Pacific and in recent months through large parts of Latin America. Since November 2015, evidence has been emerging that ZIKV is very likely associated with an observed increase in neurological complications (Guillain-Barré syndrome) in adults and severe congenital brain malformations in infants born to mothers infected during pregnancy – a condition known as microcephaly. Evidence for a causal link with ZIKV has been building, with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control concluding on 9 March 2016 that the evidence that Zika infections can cause brain damage and defects is “substantial and accumulating.”
The European Commission swiftly responded in December 2015 by initiating a series of consultations within GloPID-R, a global network of major public and private funders of preparedness research. Funders, public health authorities from the affected countries, as well as experts and researchers in relevant fields from the affected countries and GloPID-R members were invited to establish research priorities, track research capacity, and share any research activities that are ongoing or under development.
The importance of a rapid research response to the Zika outbreak is highlighted by the WHO's declaration on 1 February 2016 that the recent cluster of microcephaly cases and other neurological disorders is a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.
Call to address Zika research gaps
The EC has released €10 million for research on the Zika virus, currently affecting large parts of Latin America. The funding, which comes from the EU's Horizon 2020 research and innovation funding programme, will first be directed towards proving the link between the virus and severe brain malformations reported in newborn children. If proven, researchers could then move on to combatting the Zika virus, including developing diagnostics and testing potential treatments or vaccines.
The deadline for submission of proposals is 28 April 2016.
Due to the evolving research landscape and the short deadline, and in order to facilitate the optimal preparation of research proposals by interested consortia, a webinar to present the topic and address questions took place on 16 February 2016.
- Webinar Presentation: Addressing the urgent research gaps against the Zika virus 279 KB
- Zika FAQ 489 KB
Participants may also find useful the presentations and recordings from the H2020 SC1 InfoDay.
What is being done?
The European Commission is mobilising €10 million for urgently needed research on the Zika virus in response to the upsurge in cases of severe congenital brain malformations across Latin America, and their suspected link to Zika virus infections. If the link is proven, this money could be used to combat the Zika virus, for example, by developing diagnostics and testing potential treatments or vaccines.
Horizon 2020 already offers a number of opportunities to finance projects that can help in the fight against Zika. These include:
- €40 million call for research on vaccine development for malaria and neglected infectious diseases, which includes the Zika virus;
- €10 million for research infrastructures for vector control, including the mosquitos that spread Zika;
There is also the ERA-NET programme under FP7:
In addition to launching new funding for Zika research, in December 2015 the European Commission contacted a number of ongoing research projects on dengue fever and other diseases related to Zika, including projects on preparedness research. These researchers have been asked to urgently refocus their work to the ongoing Zika epidemic.
One of these projects, PREPARE (Platform for European Preparedness Against (Re-) emerging Epidemics), is preparing its network to be able to quickly collect crucial clinical data in case autochthonously-transmitted Zika arrives in Europe.
- The PREPARE ARBO virus study in the Balkans beginning in May 2016 has been modified so that adult Zika cases, both those presenting acutely and those with GBS, may be identified. The project is prepared to expand the study to Italy, France, Spain, Slovenia and Montenegro, areas where the Aedes albopictus mosquito is present, depending on how the Zika epidemic evolves
- PREPARE has collaborated with ISARIC to establish publically available Zika research tools to collect clinical standardised neonate and maternal clinical and laboratory data
- Information regarding European laboratory preparedness to detect Zika infection has been collected from PREPARE and COMBACTE LAB-Net laboratory contacts through an ECDC Zika questionnaire and is currently being analysed
PREPARE continues to monitor the Zika outbreak and communicate with the European Commission and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control to guide its outbreak research response.
A coordinated global action
The European Commission, together with funding organisations from other countries, has established the Global Research Collaboration for Infectious Disease Preparedness (GloPID-R). Since infectious diseases constitute a cross-border public health threat and can spread rapidly, GloPID-R works toward improving global collaboration of funders. The ultimate goal is the establishment of a rapid and effective research response to any rapidly spreading infectious disease epidemic within 48 hours of an outbreak.
Since early December 2015, GloPID-R has mobilized against Zika, aiming to coordinate the research response of its members to the outbreak, to facilitate synergies and to prevent duplications in funded research.
More information from the European Commission's Public Health web site
Find the answers to these and other questions:
European Commission urges support for urgent Zika research
“I have been following the development of the Zika virus (ZIKV) outbreak with great concern. A few isolated cases have swiftly turned into an outbreak of alarming proportions, with evidence suggesting an ominous link with an upsurge in new-born brain malformations in affected countries. Some countries have already issued advice for women to avoid pregnancy.
“Our European values demand that we do not leave other countries to deal with such outbreaks alone. While the risk of transmission of the Zika virus in the EU is still extremely low, there is currently no treatment or vaccine against the virus and that is everyone's problem.”