Global Virome Project Set to Launch in 2018
Zoonotic diseases are transmitted between animals and humans, and make up 60% of all human diseases. Their impact is devastating: 13 of these infections alone kill 2.2 million people per year. While modern medicine gives us some control, events like the 2014 ebola scare or SARS outbreak of 2003 ultimately highlight our unpreparedness for the next epidemic.
This week, Science published an article announcing the launch of the Global Virome Project which seeks to mitigate disease emergence by “[providing] timely data for public health interventions against future pandemics.”
Scientists worldwide will begin a concerted effort to discover new viruses using large-scale sampling, DNA sequencing, and data collection. Their goal is to find the “1.67 million yet-to-be-discovered viral species from key zoonotic viral families” and prevent future zoonotic pandemics.
Researchers predict that between 631,000 and 827,000 of known viral species have the potential to be deadly to humans.
The Global Viral Project (GVP) has been in the works since 2016 when stakeholders from Asia, Africa, the Americas, and Europe met to discuss the project’s logistics. One of their main concerns was expense as the GVP is predicted to cost more than $7 billion. However, if it can successfully prevent even one pandemic, the investment would be worthwhile.
The SARS outbreak alone cost the global economy about $40 billion. Researchers strongly believe that relevant information on at least 70% of target viruses will be collected within the project’s first ten years and require only $1.2 billion in funding.
Fieldwork is expected to begin this year in China and Thailand. As Jonna Mazet, Executive Director of the One Health Institute at UC Davis, stated: “It is time to move from reactionary mode, chasing the last horrible virus, to a proactive one.”
In an increasingly populated world, disease prevention is more important than ever.