A Radical Vision to Identify and Study the World’s Unknown Viruses

NEW YORK – February 22, 2018 – EcoHealth Alliance, a nonprofit organization working at the intersection of animal, environmental, and human health on a global scale, is part of an ambitious vision to reshape the way the world thinks about global pandemic threats by prioritizing mitigation rather than focusing on reaction. This means dedicating money and resources to prevent pandemics before they begin, rather than focusing on controlling those that have already started to spread.

A major part of that mission is the Global Virome Project–of which EcoHealth Alliance is a founding partner–whose mission is laid out this week in Science. The Global Virome Project aims to track, identify, and study the majority of the estimated 1.67 million unknown viral species in our world, as many as 827,000 of which could potentially infect humans.

“For over a hundred years, the status quo has been to react to individual outbreaks as they happen, rather than preparing for them beforehand. Not any more,” EcoHealth Alliance President Dr. Peter Daszak, who is also co-author of the Science paper, member of the Global Virome Project’s Steering Committee, and its Co-Lead for Science and Technology, said. “What we’ve found is that by only targeting known pathogens, we’re protecting ourselves from less than 0.1 percent of viruses that could cause a pandemic.”

Even outbreaks with low mortality rates have steep costs. The SARS outbreak of 2002-2003 cost between $30 and $50 billion to the global economy, emerging as a completely novel virus before infecting more than 8,000 people over a few months. Investing in mitigation strategies now can save billions in the near future. Within a 10-year timeframe, the Global Virome Project partners aim to discover, characterize, and assess the viral ecology of 71 percent of the world’s 1.67 million undiscovered viruses for only around $1.2 billion.

That 71 percent (nearly 1.2 million viruses) includes the viruses most likely to cause a future pandemic, as the easiest viruses to discover are also the most likely to spillover into human populations.

Work on completing the global virome now begins in earnest, with fieldwork scheduled to start later this year in China and Thailand. Future work will initially target areas of greatest outbreak risk, as laid out by EcoHealth Alliance’s emerging infectious diseases hotspots map.

EcoHealth Alliance's Hotspots Map of Global Pandemic Risk
EcoHealth Alliance’s Hotspots Map of Global Pandemic Risk

About EcoHealth Alliance
Building on over 45 years of groundbreaking science, EcoHealth Alliance is a global nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting wildlife, environmental, and public health from the emergence of disease. Approximately 60 percent of emerging infectious diseases like Ebola, HIV, Zika, SARS, MERS, and West Nile virus have all originated in animals before spilling over to human populations. Using environmental and health data covering the past 60 years, EcoHealth Alliance scientists created the first-ever global disease hotspots map that identified at-risk regions to determine where research and field work are needed to help predict and prevent the next pandemic crisis. That work is the foundation of EcoHealth Alliance’s rigorous, science-based approach working in more than 30 countries worldwide. EcoHealth Alliance’s strength is founded on innovations in research, training, global partnerships, capacity building, and policy initiatives.

Press contact: Robert Kessler, (646) 868-4711 or kessler@ecohealthalliance.org