ZIKAlliance, a multinational and multi-disciplinary research consortium coordinated by Inserm1 was today awarded €11,9M by the European Union's Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme, to conduct a 36-month cutting-edge research project during the ongoing outbreak of Zika virus infection (ZIKV) in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The consortium, which is coordinated by leading virologist Prof. Xavier de Lamballerie (Inserm, IRD, Aix-Marseille University) includes the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz), the Universities of Heidelberg, Leuven, and Oxford, Erasmus Medical Center, the Leiden University Medical Center, the University of Bonn Medical Centre, Fundação Bahiana de Infectologia, and Institut Pasteur among its 52 partners, located in 18 countries.
In a global effort to combat what is a global threat that has affected 73 countries and territories worldwide (WHO Zika Situation Report, 13 October 2016), the consortium, which spreads over 4 continents, will bring together numerous academic disciplines to address three key objectives.
Firstly, it aims to explore the impact of ZIKV during pregnancy, and the short and medium term effects that it has on newborn babies. Though a link between Zika and microcephaly has been proven2, the full impact of ZIKV on mothers and babies remains unknown.
ZIKAlliance will also explore the natural history of ZIKV in humans and their environment in the context of other circulating arboviruses affecting the same populations, such as Dengue fever and Chikungunya. With a strong emphasis on both basic and social sciences consortium partners within basic science will seek to characterise the virus, the mechanisms of the disease, and identify drugs that can contral the viral infection. Meanwhile, social science partners will explore the cost and social impact of the disease, as well as the characterisation of beliefs and behaviours within the affected Brazilian population.
Keen to leave a legacy following the end of the project the consortium also aims to build the overall capacity and preparedness for research ahead of future epidemic threats in the affected areas, through the development of a preparedness platform. This objective is conducted in collaboration with two other European Commission funded consortia: ZikaPlan and ZikAction.
While large medical cohorts will be studied in Latin America and the Caribbean, European leading research institutions will contribute outstanding basic research programmes – and partners in Africa, Asia, and Polyneisa will be part of the intercontinental epidemiological studies planned within ZIKAlliance.
“We have managed to gather a very broad range of partners whose experiences are likely to make this project a success” says de Lamballerie, and adds that “rather than parachuting in external research capacity, we really aim to build something more sustainable to benefit the region for future outbreaks”.