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A multinational and multi-disciplinary research consortium has been awarded €11.9 million to conduct a 36-month research project during the current outbreak of Zika virus infection in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The European Union's Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme awarded the funding to the ZIKAlliance consortium, which includes researchers from the Centre for Tropical Medicine & Global Health at the University of Oxford.

The consortium is coordinated by leading virologist Professor Xavier de Lamballerie (INSERM, IRD, Aix-Marseille University), and 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 the global threat that has affected 73 countries and territories worldwide, the consortium will bring together numerous academic disciplines to address three key objectives.

Firstly, it aims to explore the impact of Zika virus during pregnancy, and the short and medium term effects that it has on new-born babies. Though a link between Zika and microcephaly has been proven, the full impact of the virus on mothers and babies remains unknown.

ZIKAlliance will also explore the natural history of Zika virus 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 control 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, leading European research institutions will contribute research programmes. Partners in Africa, Asia, and Polynesia will be part of the intercontinental epidemiological studies planned within ZIKAlliance.

Gail Carson, head of ISARIC’s Coordinating Centre and lead for ZIKAlliance’s WP8, based at Nuffield Department of Medicine’s Centre for Tropical Medicine and Global Health in Oxford, said: “Since ISARIC’s response to ZIKV started in early December 2015, we have worked tirelessly to support our colleagues in Zika affected countries, and we are delighted to see these platforms getting the funding that they deserve.

“Research is crucial to an efficient outbreak response, and building future preparedness is what ISARIC is all about.”

ZIKAlliance is a three-year project funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research Innovation Programme under the Grant Agreement no. 734548.

For more information about ISARIC’s involvement in the Zika response effort, please contact Kajsa-Stina Longuere by email: kajsa-stina.longuere@ndm.ox.ac.uk or phone: +447718696412

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