Europe’s drugs regulator said on Monday (8 February) it had established an expert Zika task force to advise companies working on vaccines and medicines against the virus, which is suspected of causing a spike in birth defects in Brazil.
With no vaccines or medicines currently approved and none even undergoing clinical studies, the move by London-based European Medicines Agency (EMA) is designed to ensure Zika development work proceeds as rapidly as possible.
“The agency is encouraging medicines developers to contact EMA if they have any promising projects in this area. EMA will also proactively reach out to companies already planning to work on investigational vaccines and offer scientific and regulatory advice,” it said in a statement.
“Early and regular interaction with the agency can significantly speed up the development of medicines.”
Several biotech and pharmaceutical companies are racing to develop a Zika vaccine, including France’s Sanofi, which already has a vaccine for the dengue virus, which is a similar condition.
But scientists know relatively little about Zika and the road to developing a preventative shot against the mosquito-borne disease is strewn with hurdles.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) on 1 February formally declared the Zika virus a global emergency. Labelling the virus an international health threat is meant to increase the chances of getting it under control with the help of the WHO's expertise, personnel and resources.