Schaer, Vainieri Huttle, Pinkin, Holley, McKnight & Quijano Measure to Help Spur Cure for Zika Virus Gains Approval by the Assembly

(TRENTON) - The General Assembly on Thursday cleared a measure sponsored by Assembly Democrats Gary Schaer, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Nancy Pinkin, Jamel Holley, Angela McKnight and Annette Quijano 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 measure passed 64-0-1. 

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." 

"Adding the Zika virus to the list of eligible Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) is critical to finding a cure," said Pinkin (D-Middlesex). "Although, we have seen few cases in New Jersey, we are not sure what the next few months will bring. Zika's placement on this list will, hopefully, speed the development of a vaccine."

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.

"The designation of Zika on the Neglected Tropical Disease list was crucial to ensuring we begin to get ahead on curbing the spread of the virus," said Holley (D-Union). "This was a smart move on behalf of the food and drug administration as we head into warmer weather and mosquito season."

"Placing Zika on the priority disease list gives find a cure for the virus the proper sense of urgency," said McKnight (D-Hudson). "The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has done well to raise awareness of the disease and incentivize drug companies to work harder to develop a cure."

"Zika's effect on pregnant women and children as well as the recent discovery of the virus' ability to be transferred sexually is disturbing," said Quijano (D-Union). "Allowing the Zika Virus on the NTD list and eligible for the voucher program brings the nation one step closer to a finding a cure. This was the right thing to do."

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 on May 12. The bill will now go to the Senate for further consideration.
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