The European Medicines Agency is setting up a task force offering advice on any scientific and regulatory matters for the research and development of medicines or vaccines against the Zika virus.

The Agency said it has put together a group of experts with specialised knowledge in vaccines, infectious diseases and other relevant expertise to contribute to the global response to the threat of Zika virus infection. 

There are currently no vaccines or medicines to protect from or treat Zika approved or in clinical studies, and regulators are hoping to accelerate the development of potential candidates after the World Health Organisation’s recent declaration that the virus is a public health emergency of international concern.

Last week, the UK’s Medical Research Council announced a ‘rapid response’ call for research applications centred on the Zika virus, as the infection continues to spread at an alarming rate.

Up to £1 million is to be made available from the government’s £1.5 billion Global Challenges Research Fund to researchers seeking to investigate the nature of Zika, its transmission and the potential links to neurological conditions including microcephaly, in the hope of gaining a better understanding of the virus.

The news also comes as the number of infections continue to grow at an alarming rate, with many questions on the virus remaining unanswered. 

In most recent developments, Colombia announced the death of three people who contracted the virus and developed the rare nerve disorder Guillain-Barre, Brazilian researchers detected active samples of Zika in urine and saliva for the first time, and the US Centers for Disease Control said it identified a case in which the disease was sexually transmitted.

Only 20% of those infected with Zika will experience any symptoms, the most common of which are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes), but it is thought to pose a serious risk to developing foetuses, having been linked to a neurological birth disorder called microcephaly which causes babies to be born with abnormally small heads.