"Disease X" seems like something Elon Musk would come up with. In reality, the name was established years ago to encourage scientists to work on medicinal countermeasures for undiscovered infectious threats, such as the one that causes COVID-19, rather than only known ones, such as the Ebola virus. The goal was to promote the development of platform technologies such as vaccinations, pharmacological therapies, and diagnostic tests that might be quickly changed and deployed in response to a variety of future outbreaks with epidemic or pandemic potential.
1. What is ‘Disease X?’
It's the somewhat enigmatic moniker for a disease produced by a currently unknown, but dangerous, microbial menace. In 2017, the World Health Organisation placed Disease X to a short list of diseases rated a significant priority for research, alongside well-known killers such as SARS and Ebola. When Covid-19, caused by a new coronavirus, triggered the pandemic at the end of 2019, it was an example of a Disease X. The huge reservoir of viruses circulating in wildlife is thought to be a possible cause of new illnesses. This is due to their ability to spread and infect other species, including humans, resulting in an infection against which people will have no protection.
2. What’s the point of studying Disease X?
It aims to "enable early cross-cutting R&D preparedness that is also relevant" for an unknown disease, according to the WHO. The humanitarian crisis in West Africa caused by the Ebola pandemic in 2014-2016 was a wake-up call. Despite decades of research, no devices were available to deploy in time to save almost 11,000 lives. In response, the WHO developed a research and development strategy to speed the development of a variety of tools for "priority diseases."