Oxitec CEO Hadyn Parry spoke before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology on May 25th, in a hearing called “Science of Zika: The DNA of an Epidemic.”
In his testimony alongside several prominent entomologists and infectious disease specialists, Parry explained why traditional vector control solutions, like insecticides, are not effective against the dangerous Aedes aegypti mosquito and why a new solution is urgently needed.
“We are facing an unprecedented challenge of mosquito-borne diseases today. Vector control – controlling the mosquito – is actually our first line of defense, and it’s an area we’ve sadly neglected over the past decades. Because of this, we’ve seen sharp rises in dengue, chikungunya, and now we have the Zika emergency. And I’m sorry to say the current line of insecticide products are just not sufficient to control the mosquito in urban environments. At Oxitec, we looked for a new approach and that was to use the mosquito against itself.”
Oxitec has engineered male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes to carry a self-limiting gene that causes their offspring to die, Parry explained. “The way this works, we release males that can’t bite. They go out and mate with wild females.”
“Females can’t tell the difference between wild males and Oxitec males and the more that will mate with our males, the more offspring will die and we will bring the population crashing down,” Parry noted. He reported that in all completed efficacy trials involving Oxitec’s solution to date, Oxitec has demonstrated a reduction in the target Aedes aegypti population by over 90% in about six months, which Rep. Ralph Abraham (R-LA) called “a phenomenal feat.”
“We’ve got to quit putting Band-Aids on this,” Rep. Abraham asserted. “We have to get to the root cause of this – the root cause is the mosquito. Yellow fever, dengue, malaria – they are all vector-born – we have to kill the source.”
Parry also indicated that the Oxitec approach is much better for the environment than traditional vector control approaches because it is not a toxin and doesn’t kill other insects – it targets only Aedes aegypti. “In a matter of days, the insects die off and so they have no lingering effects on the environment or the food chain,” he stated.
Rep. Abraham said that as a physician who had treated vector-spread diseases, he was frustrated that the approval by the FDA was taking too long.
“The federal government is, unfortunately, often reactive in my opinion. It’s like sending the Hindenburg to rescue the Titanic. We need to be better than that and we should be better than that at this stage in the game,” Abraham stated. “We have wonderful scientists here that tell us we need to act now, we should have acted a year ago.”
Parry closed his statement by stressing the critical nature of the situation unfolding, one that may require FDA’s Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) that could expedite use of Oxitec’s much-needed solution. The FDA has declared EUA for assays and diagnostic tools in the ongoing battle with Zika to help identify the virus, but has no current mechanism to do so for Oxitec’s solution which would help drive down the population of the primary vector for the Zika virus itself.
Parry stated, “I don’t think time is on our side. I think the utmost urgency is required. I’ve just come from Puerto Rico, and we could have a catastrophe on our hands if we are not careful. At any one time, there are 28,000 women pregnant, and that is a very sobering thought when the summer is coming up and we have active disease transmission. In view of that urgent health need, I would urge your support to give the FDA your encouragement so they can expedite our application. I would urge consideration of an emergency use authorization which is used to bring forward new medications or diagnostics. The fact that we have such an urgent and pressing need means the FDA needs more tools at its disposal to protect Americans. We need to make this available in the coming months rather than the coming years.”