The head of a British biotech company that has developed a genetically modified mosquito in an effort to lower the population of the insects that spread the Zika virus called for federal regulators today to expedite a decision about on conducting a test of these mosquitoes in Florida.
Hadyn Parry, the CEO of Oxitec, spoke at a congressional hearing today about his company's mosquitoes, which are genetically modified in an effort to reduce the population of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, the species primarily responsible for the spread of the Zika virus.
The GMO mosquitoes are all male and hence do not bite. When released into the wild, they mate with females and produce nonviable offspring, thereby reducing the mosquito population without the need for pesticides. They have already been used in Brazil and the Cayman Islands to fight the spread of the Zika virus.
When asked by the panel to explain the U.S. Food and Drug Administrations' response to Oxitec's application, Parry said "it's complicated." He said the company initially filed in 2011 to test the GMO mosquito called "Oxitec OX513A" in the U.S.
"We are being treated as an investigational animal drug," Parry testified at the congressional hearing today, noting that means from the FDA's perspective "they need to approve an animal drug in order to provide a public health benefit."
The FDA has given an initial "Finding of No Significant Impact" regarding the proposed test in the Florida Keys. In a statement to ABC News, the FDA explained that the agency is "reviewing relevant comments" about the proposed trial before making a final assessment. The agency would not speculate on the timeframe for how long this will take.
Parry said at the hearing that he hoped the FDA would act quickly to allow the testing.
"I think we should encourage them to find the processes to make this happen," Parry said, noting that an emergency route for approval may be appropriate in this case. He pointed out that the GMO mosquitoes can reach mosquitoes in areas where traditional spraying can't, such as in indoor areas.
In previous tests outside of the U.S. the GMO mosquito has helped reduce the population of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes by 90 percent in urban areas, Perry said.
"We can target the mosquito as an integrated approach. We have now the technology to control the mosquito in an urban environment and focus as a priority," he said.
The congressional Committee on Science, Space and Technology held the hearing on the Zika virus and the research being done to understand and fight the virus. Currently, at least 500 people have been diagnosed with the Zika virus in the U.S., though virtually all contracted the disease while outside the country. In limited cases, the disease was spread through sexual contact, according to health officials.