Global Virus Network (GVN) Catalyzes World Health Organization (WHO) to Officially Recognize HTLV-1 as Threatening Pathogen to Humans

March 29, 2021

During GVN’s 9th International Meeting in Melbourne, Australia on September 25-27, 2017 in partnership with the Peter Doherty Institute and the Institut Pasteur, researchers held impressive sessions on one of the most potent human carcinogens, human T cell leukemia virus-1 (HTLV-1).  The sessions were organized by Dr. Sharon Lewin, Director of The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity and Director of Doherty’s GVN Center of Excellence and Dr. Damian Purcell, member of GVN’s HTLV-1 Task Force and Head of the Molecular Virology Laboratory in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Doherty.  In particular, Dr. Lloyd Einsiedel, a member of the GVN HTLV-1 Task Force and of Baker Institute in Australia, reported serious HTLV-1 endemic cases in Central Australia.

The group of renowned scientists and activists were moved by the presentations to call on the World Health Organization (WHO) to support the promotion of proven, effective transmission prevention strategies on this debilitating and deadly virus.  An abbreviated version of the letter, Time to eradicate HTLV-1: an open letter to WHO, co-authored by Dr. Robert Gallo, Co-Founder, International Scientific Advisor to the GVN and member of GVN’s HTLV-1 Task Force and The Homer & Martha Gudelsky Distinguished Professor in Medicine, Co-Founder and Director, Institute of Human Virology, University of Maryland School of Medicine, a GVN Center of Excellence; Dr. Fabiola Martin, member of GVN’s HTLV-1 Task Force and a Sexual Health, HIV and HTLV Physician and scientist based in Brisbane/Australia; and Dr. Yutaka Tagaya, member of GVN’s HTLV-1 Task Force and Assistant Professor of Medicine, Institute of Human Virology, University of Maryland School of Medicine, was published in The Lancet online and in the print May 12, 2017 issue.  The full letter, with many signatories, was published on the GVN website.  The call-to-action was covered by major global media and scientific journals including CNN, ABC, The Guardian, Science and Nature Medicine, among others.

Since 2017, GVN members such as Dr. Eduardo Gotuzzo, member of GVN’s HTLV-1 Task Force and GVN Center Director of the Instituto de Medicina Tropical “Alexander von Humboldt” IMTAvH of the Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia (UPCH), have worked with Ministers of Health around the globe to also call on the WHO to recognize HTLV-1 as a threatening pathogen to humans.

In late 2018, the WHO organized a review on HTLV-1, including on its epidemiology, pathogenesis and clinical impacts and invited the scientific community to assist. Dr. John Kaldor of the Kirby Institute of Australia, and a member of the GVN HTLV-1 Task Force, was chosen by the WHO to assemble a team and provide a review on the issue. Dr, Andrew Ball, the Senior Strategy and Operations Adviser in the Department of HIV/AIDS of WHO, subsequently organized a meeting in Tokyo in March 2019 and invited over 50 researchers/clinicians/patient representatives to the meeting to discuss a consensus on recommendations for the WHO relating to HTLV-1. The meeting was chaired by Dr. Toshiki Watanabe of University of Tokyo, the President of the International Retrovirology Association (IRVA) and a member of the GVN HTLV-1 Task Force.  The meeting was published in February 2021.

Finally, in March 2021, catalyzed by GVN’s initiative and commitment by its members, the WHO published several articles recognizing HTLV-1 as a relevant pathogen to humans.

While the sudden outbreak of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has slowed down the process, the WHO has finally properly recognized the threat of HTLV-1 to humans. We expect that this action will influence the scientific community, public health agencies in many countries, pharmaceutical industry and even investors to focus their attention and funding in support of research, drug development, clinical treatment, and social environment to combat HTLV-1.