Schaer & Vainieri Huttle Measure Backing Cure for Zika Virus Gains Assembly Panel Approval

An Assembly panel on Thursday advanced a measure sponsored by Assembly Democrats Gary Schaer and Valerie Vainieri Huttle backing the federal government’s recent move to prioritize a cure for the Zika virus, which has caused widespread concern because of the devastating impact it has on children born to infected pregnant women.

The resolution (AR-142) applauds the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for recently adding the Zika virus to the list of eligible Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) under the FDA’s Tropical Disease Priority Review Voucher Program, which incentivizes drug companies to develop a cure for such diseases.

“With the spread of Zika in Latin America and its arrival in the United States, this was an important move on the part of the FDA to add Zika to the list of diseases eligible under the voucher program,” said Schaer (D-Bergen/Passaic). “Incentivizing drug companies to put their ingenuity to work could save countless lives and prevent thousands of children from being born with devastating health consequences that could impair them for the rest of their lives.”

“Zika’s continuing spread will only be compounded by the imminent arrival of summer, posing a greater threat to women and newborns,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “It’s crucial that the federal government use whatever resources it has at its disposal to incentivize the pharmaceutical research industry to advance a cure or vaccination.”

In many people, the illness associated with Zika – a disease caused by a viral infection that is primarily spread by mosquitos – is usually undetected or presents mild symptoms lasting for several days to a week. However, Zika has been making headlines as it continues to spread because of the dangers it poses to pregnant women.

According to health experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), Zika represents a significant danger to pregnant women because it can lead to congenital malformations and neurological complications in infants born to infected women, causing children to be born with abnormally small heads and potential developmental problems.

According to the WHO, the Zika outbreak meets the conditions for a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. Accordingly, the FDA had the statutory authorized to add Zika to the voucher program. The program incentivizes a drug company to develop a cure for NTDs by providing a voucher that can be used to acquire priority review from the FDA for the approval of a new drug or allowing them to sell the voucher to another company.

The measure was approved by the Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee.