ZikaPLAN: Fondation Mérieux unites with 24 research organizations to fight Zika virus and build long-term outbreak response capacity in Latin America

Fondation Mérieux is among the 25 leading research and public health organizations from Latin America, North America, Africa, Asia, and Europe gathered in Recife for the launch of ZikaPLAN (Zika Preparedness Latin American Network).

This global initiative, created in response to a Horizon 2020 funding call by the European Commission’s Directorate-General Research and Innovation, has been formed to address the Zika virus outbreak and the many research and public health challenges it poses. The initiative takes a comprehensive approach to tackle the Zika threat by:

  • addressing the knowledge gaps and needs in the current Zika outbreak to better understand the disease, prevent its spread and educate the affected populations,
  • building a sustainable response capacity in Latin America for Zika and other emerging infectious diseases (EID).

The severity of the outbreak and mutation of the virus have generated numerous research questions. This unprecedented Zika outbreak has also highlighted the need to build local capacities: in some of the regions where the virus struck there was not the necessary research infrastructure to understand the threat and take action quickly.

As a member of the ZikaPLAN consortium, Fondation Mérieux is contributing in several domains. Its experience in providing access to diagnostics for neglected diseases will be used by ZikaPLAN’s platform for diagnostic innovation and evaluation to develop two point of care tests (Lateral Flow Immunoassay). The Foundation will contribute its experience in training to run a practical course in Brazil on the new diagnostics developed through ZikaPLAN. The course will be for trainers from different countries to provide a broad access to the techniques. An e-learning module on Zika diagnostics will be developed and made available on GLOBE, Fondation Mérieux’s scientific web portal, and on The Global Health Network, belonging to the University of Oxford. Fondation Mérieux is also in charge of the communication activities and dissemination of ZikaPLAN results.

Other research organizations in the ZikaPLAN consortium will look at Zika’s connection with congenital syndromes and neurological complications, and the pathogenesis of severe cases, through a series of clinical studies. They will explore non-vector and vector transmission and risk factors for geographic spread, measure the burden of disease and investigate how the virus has evolved, comparing current and historic strains. ZikaPLAN will look at novel personal preventive measures, innovation in diagnostics and modelling of vector control and vaccine strategies to inform policy decisions. The social sciences will also play a role in ZikaPLAN, which aims to determine the best communication strategies to keep the affected communities informed.

ZikaPLAN will work closely with two other European Union-funded consortia, ZIKAction and ZikAlliance, to establish a Latin American and Caribbean network. This network will address the broader issue of building local capacity in Latin America to prepare for and rapidly launch a large-scale research response to emerging infectious disease threats. ZikaPLAN will contribute to developing an inter-epidemic research plan, policy recommendations, training, research networks and dissemination strategies that are designed to permanently strengthen local capacities, beyond the four years of the project. The three consortia will set up common bodies for the global management of scientific programs, communication, and ethical, regulatory and legal issues.

ZikaPLAN is receiving a €11.5 million grant from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program, under grant agreement number 734584.

About the ZikaPLAN Consortium

ZikaPLAN is coordinated by an Executive Board comprised of Prof. Annelies Wilder-Smith as director, representing the University of Umeå, Prof. Eduardo Massad, as deputy director, representing the Fundação de Apoio à Universidade de São Paulo and 15 Work Package leaders from partner organizations. Independent ethical, scientific and industrial advisory boards provide guidance.

The consortium builds on expertise and existing relationships in a variety of research areas related to Zika and emerging infectious diseases. Members come from 5 continents, with 13 from Europe, 8 from Latin America, 2 from the United States, 1 from Africa and 1 from Asia.

ZikaPLAN consortium members

  • Antwerp Institute of Tropical Medicine, Belgium
  • Associação Técnica–Científica de Estudo Colaborativo Latino Americano de Malformações Congênitas, Brazil
  • Erasmus Universitair Medisch Centrum Rotterdam, The Netherland
  • Fondation Mérieux, France
  • Fundação Oswaldo Fiocruz, Brazil
  • Fundación Universidad del Norte, Colombia
  • Institut Pasteur de Dakar, Senegal
  • Institut Pasteur, France
  • Instituto Butantan, Brazil
  • Instituto de Medicina Tropical Pedro Kourí, Cuba
  • International Vaccine Institute, Republic of Korea
  • Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium
  • La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology, USA
  • London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK
  • Queen Mary University of London, UK
  • Schweizerisches Tropen- und Public Health-Institut, Switzerland
  • The Chancellor, Masters and Scholars of the University of Oxford, UK
  • The University of Liverpool, UK
  • The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA
  • Ulster University, UK
  • Umeå University, Sweden
  • Universidad del Valle, Colombia
  • Universidade de Pernambuco, Brazil
  • Universidade de São Paulo, Brazil
  • University of Glasgow, UK

A ZikaPLAN website will soon be available on The Global Health Network web portal.