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Thursday, 06 October 2016 15:07

Congress moves on Zika

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Model of Zika virus produced from cryo-EM via Rossman's group Model of Zika virus produced from cryo-EM via Rossman's group

Finally Congress has moved to allocate much needed funds for work on Zika virus. The vote, on 28 September, provides $1.1 billion, less than the $1.9 billion requested by President Obama, but nevertheless important considering the general agreement that the spreading virus is a public health emergency.

The Zika money allocated by Congress includes $394 million for mosquito control and $66 million for Zika-related health care expenses in Puerto Rico and other US territories. An additional $397 million will be used to continue development of vaccines against the virus. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the NIH has begun work on four different Zika virus vaccines, and Chief Tony Fauci has indicated that he would soon run out of money for this work. Although it will take several years to have a Zika virus vaccine approved for human use, it is an important goal and the funds are certainly welcome.

Most of the major news outlets that reported on the passage of the Zika virus bill did not mention the $152 million for "research on the virology, natural history, and pathogenesis of the Zika virus infection and preclinical and clinical development of vaccines and other medical countermeasures for the Zika virus and other vector-borne diseases, domestically and internationally" (link to text of H.R. 5325). 

It’s clearly important to provide money for Zika virus-related mosquito control, vaccine development, and health care. But there are many unanswered questions about the virus that are being investigated by many virologists, and they are using funds from other projects to do this work. Answers to some of these questions might provide other ways to control or prevent infection.

How will the $152 million for Zika virus research be allocated? I do not know the answer, but I suspect mainly through the National Institutes of Health, which does virology research on its campus in Bethesda, Maryland (so-called intramural research). But NIH also provides grant support for investigational research at academic and industrial institutions, or "extramural" research. Here is how it works: you write a grant proposal, send it to the NIH, and a committee (study section) composed of expert scientists reviews it and gives it a priority score. Other committees at NIH then determine if the proposal has done well enough to be funded.

Many laboratories, including ours, have submitted proposals for Zika virus research to the NIH. Hopefully the $152 million provided by Congress will help fund some of this work.

Last modified on Wednesday, 12 October 2016 18:07
Vincent Racaniello

Vincent Racaniello is a virologist at Columbia University and science communicator. He is using Zika Diaries to communicate the personal and behind the scenes experiences of his laboratory as it moves from working on poliovirus (for 35 years) to Zika virus.

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