Global Virome Project Aims to Prevent Pandemics

The Global Virome Project aims to proactively address viral diseases before they become pandemic. ( Global Virome Project )

Whether among livestock, wildlife or humans, the best time to stop an outbreak of viral disease is early, before it becomes an epidemic. That’s when quarantines, biosecurity, vaccination and other strategies can effectively contain the outbreak.

But with an estimated 1.6 million virus species yet to be discovered, and viruses continuously mutating, health professionals often struggle to stay ahead of new outbreaks. Adding to the complexity, most recent pandemics have animal origins. Of the 1.6 million unknown viruses in mammals and birds, around 650,000 to 840,000 are zoonotic, meaning they have the capacity to infect and cause disease in humans, according to a new article outlining the Global Virome Project. Researchers from several participating institutions, led by Dr. Dennis Carroll, Director of Global Health Security and Development at the US Agency for International Development (USAID), recently published the article in the Journal Science.

The Global Virome Project builds on the USAID’s PREDICT program, which has found more than 1,000 unique viruses in animals and humans. This viral discovery program is led by Dr. Jonna Mazet, the paper’s anchor author and Executive Director of the One Health Institute at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine. “It is time to move from reactionary mode, chasing the last horrible virus, to a proactive one,” Manzet says. We can and will finally be able to identify future threats and take the steps necessary to prevent the next pandemic.”

The authors note that the Human Genome Project in the 1980s led to continuing advancements in biology and medical science, including personalized genomics and precision medicine. Likewise, the Global Virome Project could result in development of new technologies for identifying and controlling viruses while improving our ability to identify vulnerable populations and prevent global pandemics.

The Global Virome Project estimates that discovering most of the remaining viral threats and characterizing their risk of spillover would cost less than 10 percent of responding to just one major outbreak. For example, the authors note the 2003 global outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) caused economic impacts of $10 billion to $30 billion.

“I’m incredibly excited to be working with like-minded scientists and policy-makers from around the world, who are fed up with our inability to predict the next strain of deadly viruses,” Mazet says. “We are ready to work together to stop the current vicious disease cycle and identify and stop viral threats at their sources.”

Read more about the Global Virome Project.