The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has assembled a task force to assist those developing vaccines and treatments for the Zika virus.
The panel of specialists combines expertise in vaccines and knowledge of infectious diseases, and will be available to provide both scientific and regulatory support.
In a statement the EMA said: “The Agency is encouraging medicines developers to contact EMA if they have any promising projects in this area. EMA will also proactively reach out to companies already planning to work on investigational vaccines and offer scientific and regulatory advice”.
The EMA has encouraged use of existing mechanisms to accelerate development of medicines and vaccines for emerging viral diseases, including interaction with the Agency on the appropriate testing and studies required for product approval through the European Article 58 procedure.
There are currently no vaccines or medicines to protect from or treat Zika virus infection that are approved or undergoing clinical studies.
However, Sanofi's vaccine division, Sanofi Pasteur, launched a research and development programme for the virus just this month, and will draw upon its experience in developing vaccines for other viruses of the same family as Zika.
Its dengue fever vaccine Dengvaxia became the first-ever vaccine for the disease in December after clinical trials showed it prevented 90% of severe cases.
Meanwhile, GlaxoSmithKline is reportedly considering assessing the suitability of its current vaccine technology for work on the Zika virus.
The EMA's move follows the World Health Organization's (WHO) declaration of the Zika virus outbreak as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on 1 February.
In a statement, Director-General of the WHO Dr Margaret Chan said that a “coordinated international response is needed to … expedite the development of diagnostic tests and vaccines to protect people at risk, especially during pregnancy.”
The outbreak of the virus originated in Brazil and has spread rapidly in the Americas and Caribbean over the last month, with cases reported in several European countries amongst travellers returning from affected regions.
Like dengue, Zika is transmitted by the Aedes aegyptii mosquito species with symptoms of the virus in adults such as rashes and fevers usually lasting up to one week, however the effect on unborn babies is far more severe.
The WHO has recognised a causal relationship between Zika infection in expectant mothers and cases of infants born with microcephaly, though scientific validation is ongoing.
The emergency committee compounded this with a call to “coordinate international efforts to investigate and understand this relationship better”.