WHO convening 300 scientists to identify pandemic-capable pathogens

The World Health Organization is convening more than 300 scientists to update its list of pathogens most likely to cause future outbreaks or pandemics. The priority pathogen list is meant to guide global investments, and research and development on vaccines and therapeutics. 

To develop the list, scientists will review evidence on over 25 virus families and bacteria, as well as "Disease X," which is included "to indicate an unknown pathogen that could cause a serious international epidemic," according to a Nov. 21 WHO news release. The WHO uses the list to develop research and development road maps, which ultimately inform developers on the desired specifications for vaccines, treatments and tests. 

"Targeting priority pathogens and virus families for research and development of countermeasures is essential for a fast and effective epidemic and pandemic response. 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," said Dr. Michael Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies program.

The list was last reviewed in 2018, with the revised version slated to be published in the first quarter of 2023. The current list includes COVID-19, Ebola and severe acute respiratory syndrome. 

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