UPDATE 1-Race to fast-track Zika trials as 12 groups seek vaccine
* WHO urges speedy regulatory pathways for clinical tests
* EU drug regulator sets up Zika task force to expedite work (Updates with WHO comments, link to Obama call for funds)
By Ben Hirschler
LONDON, Feb 8 (Reuters) - At least 12 groups are now working to develop a Zika vaccine and health authorities said on Monday they were working to ensure development proceeded as rapidly as possible.
The World Health Organization said it was important to establish speedy regulatory pathways, although all the vaccines remained in early-stage development and licensed products would take "a few years" to reach the market.
With no approved Zika vaccines or medicines and none even undergoing clinical studies, scientists and drugmakers are on the starting-block in fighting the mosquito-borne disease suspected of causing a spike in birth defects in Brazil.
However, Zika is similar to dengue, yellow fever and West Nile virus, for which vaccines exist or are being developed, and the hope is to try similar approaches against the latest hazard.
The London-based European Medicines Agency (EMA) said it had established an expert task force on Zika to advise companies working on vaccines and medicines, mirroring similar action during Ebola and pandemic flu outbreak in 2009.
"The agency is encouraging medicines developers to contact EMA if they have any promising projects in this area. EMA will also proactively reach out to companies already planning to work on investigational vaccines and offer scientific and regulatory advice," it said in a statement. Continuación...