The WHO list of priority diseases sets out the diseases and pathogens that research and development in “public health emergency contexts” should address. The aim is “focused and productive” research and development. These diseases are evaluated on their epidemic potential alongside countermeasure strength.  

In July 2022 the diseases were: 

  • Covid-19 
  • Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever 
  • Ebola and Marburg viruses 
  • Lassa fever 
  • MERS-CoV and SARS 
  • Nipah and henipaviral diseases 
  • Rift Valley fever 
  • Zika 
  • Disease X 

The WHO’s R&D Blueprint was developed at the World Health Assembly in May 2016. It aims to “fast-track the availability of effective tests, vaccines, and medicines”. Identifying “severe emerging diseases” for which there are limited “diagnostic, preventative, and curative solutions”, it unites medical, scientific, and regulatory experts. The Blueprint is established, a list of diseases is regularly curated, and the world watching. What, then, is the strategy to reduce the effects that each of the items on the list can bring? 

In our post on Disease X, we discuss the development of the Pandemic Preparedness and Response Centre and the Global Virome Project’s attempts to understand future risks. Yet these individual examples of initiatives that are pushing the boundaries of our knowledge are few and far between. 

Dr Melanie Saville, Executive Director of Vaccine Research and Development at CEPI, stated in 2021 that “ambition”, united with “sustained commitment and adequate resources” might enable an end to “the spectre of pandemics”.  

“By building on the lessons learned in 2020, it should be possible in the long term to compress vaccine development timelines still further.” 

Although vaccines are the most “powerful tools” we have against this list of diseases, Saville wants the public to know that the historic achievements of the Covid-19 response were not “out of the blue”. She said that earlier investment and the application of SARS and MERS knowledge to Covid-19 were helpful. 

In 2020 Drs Peter Beyer and Sarah Paulin demanded “more public investment” to create a “viable economic environment” for responses to emerging health crises such as the priority list and AMR. They also expect pharmaceutical companies to get involved. However, this is a high-risk investment. How can policymakers encourage active involvement?