Zika threat prompts sweeping scientific collaboration

The often-hermetic world of scientific research and publishing is making an exception for the Zika virus. Thirty organizations, including scientific journals, nonprofit groups, and research institutes, announced jointly Wednesday that they would share any data or results that could be helpful in fighting the spread of Zika.

Top scientific journals Science, Nature, and the New England Journal of Medicine, among others, have committed to sharing data free of charge, along with groups such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and research entities such as the National Institutes of Health. More entities could make similar pledges in the coming weeks.

The news comes a few months after the World Health Organization released a statement saying that any researcher working on a public health emergency has the “fundamental moral obligation to share preliminary results once they are adequately quality controlled.”

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The announcement of the data-sharing initiative could be especially useful to help investigate Zika, experts say, since so little is known about the virus. Public health officials have expressed frustration with limited access to data during previous health emergencies.

“Public health threats require data-sharing in the interest of the common good,” said Bartha Knoppers, an expert on medical data-sharing at McGill University, who lauded the new initiative.

Alex Hogan/STAT Are you at risk for contracting Zika virus? Your level of risk depends in part on your living conditions.

On Feb. 1, the WHO declared the outbreak a global health emergency, in part because the mosquito-borne virus may cause women to give birth to babies with abnormally small heads and potentially damaged brains, a condition known as microcephaly. The virus may also be linked to a rare neurological disorder called Guillain-Barré syndrome, in which the immune system begins to attack nerves, sometimes causing paralysis.

Here is a full list of signatories to the data-sharing agreement:

Academy of Medical Sciences, UK
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
The British Medical Journal (BMJ)
Bulletin of the World Health Organization
Canadian Institutes of Health Research
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Chinese Academy of Sciences
Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention
The Department of Biotechnology, Government of India
The Department for International Development (DFID)
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)
The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
Fondation Mérieux
Fundação Oswaldo Cruz (Fiocruz)
The Institut Pasteur
Japan Agency for Medical Research and Development (AMED)
The JAMA Network
The Lancet
Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF)
National Academy of Medicine
National Institutes of Health, USA
National Science Foundation, USA
The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM)
Science Journals
South African Medical Research Council
Springer Nature
UK Medical Research Council
Wellcome Trust
ZonMw – The Netherlands Organisation for Health Research and Development

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