The Mosquito Research and Control Unit has formally ended its joint collaboration with Oxitec on a 35-week program designed to pinpoint the best way to combat the Aedes aegypti mosquito.
The program ended on Jan. 23, and now the two sides will construct a joint steering committee that will work on evaluating the data and reaching a final evaluation. Jim McNelly, the director of MRCU, said the two sides are currently working on eliminating errors from the data in advance of diagnosing it.
“It’s a huge amount of data. We’re working with Oxitec to get our hands around it,” said Dr. McNelly on Tuesday of summing up the nine-month project. “We definitely intend to share the information with the scientific community and with our constituents who supported the project.”
Oxitec’s genetically modified OX513A self-limiting mosquito, dubbed the “friendly mosquito” by the company, has been billed as a potentially world-changing innovation. Oxitec and the MRCU had planned on an $8 million plan for an islandwide rollout of the genetically modified mosquito program, but that was altered at the last minute in late 2017.
The two sides settled instead for a pilot program costing $588,000 that would test the genetically modified mosquitoes in combination with other suppression techniques.
The MRCU and Oxitec have been working together for 10 years, since a release of genetically modified mosquitoes in East End in 2009, and Mr. McNelly said Tuesday morning that he does not believe this project signals the end of an era in their business relationship.
“I don’t consider it the end of a 10-year relationship,” he said, “but we are not planning any more work with Oxitec in 2019. If we do, it wouldn’t be on the horizon until 2020 at the earliest.”
The most recent research project took place in two small sections of West Bay, and the steering committee will evaluate its efficacy as compared to traditional methods of combating mosquito proliferation.
MRCU said in a press release Monday that it hopes to have the final data by the second quarter of 2019, but Mr. McNelly said both sides are working with great alacrity to crunch the numbers sooner.
“I really hope it won’t be two months,” he said of the time it would take to finish evaluating the data. “I would think we’d have preliminary numbers in a month at the latest.”
A spokesperson for Oxitec was not immediately available at press time, but Grey Frandsen, the chief executive officer of Oxitec, said in an official statement that his company and MRCU will continue to discuss potential control programs in the future.