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U.S Senate approves Bill Nelson bill to speed search for Zika virus cure

in Statewide/Top Headlines by

Four new cases of the Zika virus were reported in Florida this week, bringing the total number of cases in the state to 66.


To help prevent the disease from spreading further, late Thursday night the U.S. Senate approved a bill sponsored by Sen. Bill Nelson and others to speed development of vaccines and treatments for the disease.


“We need to figure out a way to stop the spread of this virus sooner rather than later,” Nelson said. “This bill creates an incentive for drug makers to develop a vaccine as quickly as possible.”


The legislation, if approved, would add the Zika virus to the Food and Drug Administration’s Tropical Disease Priority Review Voucher Program. When a company develops an FDA-approved treatment for one of the diseases on the priority list, it receives a voucher to fast-track the approval process for another drug of its choice. Adding the Zika virus to FDA’s priority list creates an incentive for drug makers to accelerate their search for a cure.


Nelson is also calling on President Barack Obama to appoint a “Zika czar” to coordinate the federal government’s response to the virus. The spread of Zika, a rare tropical disease that has now become an epidemic in Latin America and the Caribbean,  is seen by some medical professionals as being as challenging as the AIDS crisis of the 1980s. The mosquito-borne virus typically causes a mild illness, but is also now suspected in unusual birth defects and other health problems.


In addition to her work writing for Florida Politics, Melissa Ross also hosts and produces WJCT’s First Coast Connect, the Jacksonville NPR/PBS station’s flagship local call-in public affairs radio program. The show has won four national awards from Public Radio News Directors Inc. (PRNDI). First Coast Connect was also recognized in 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2014 as Best Local Radio Show by Folio Weekly’s “Best Of Jax” Readers Poll and Melissa has also been recognized as Folio Weekly’s Best Local Radio Personality. As executive producer of The 904: Shadow on the Sunshine State, Melissa and WJCT received an Emmy in the “Documentary” category at the 2011 Suncoast Emmy Awards. The 904 examined Jacksonville’s status as Florida’s murder capital. During her years in broadcast television, Melissa picked up three additional Emmys for news and feature reporting. Melissa came to WJCT in 2009 with 20 years of experience in broadcasting, including stints in Cincinnati, Chicago, Orlando and Jacksonville. Married with two children, Melissa is a graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism/Communications. She can be reached at

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