Trial site, FDA approval needed for Oxitec GM release

It could be summer before a trial release of genetically modified mosquitoes happens in the Florida Keys.

British biotech company Oxitec has yet to submit a new application to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for a trial in one of six places under consideration by the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District.

Oxitec has to apply for approval from the FDA like it did for a trial in the Lower Keys subdivision of Key Haven, but Key Haven will not be considered for the trial following strong voter opposition on Election Day. That’s why a new approval is needed.

Over a maximum two-year trial, millions of mosquitoes would be released by Oxitec, which says the offspring of its mosquitoes do not hatch, resulting in a smaller population of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which carry the Zika virus and others.

Current weather conditions are preventing biologists from collecting many Aedes aegypti bugs in the Keys, according to Derric Nimmo, product development manager at Oxitec. Samples are needed so mosquito control officials can know where there are significant numbers of the bugs in conjunction with voters who approved of the release in a nonbinding Election Day referendum.

“There are still adults around, just in much lower numbers. I’m hoping we can say something soon but I really don’t know,” Nimmo said in reference to FDA approval.

In November, Mosquito Control Board members approved a contract for Oxitec to release genetically modified mosquitoes in spring somewhere in the Keys, but FDA approval and a trial site are needed first.

“We’ll still be waiting for the FDA approval and two months of data prior to release is necessary,” Mosquito Control District Director Andrea Leal said at the time the contract was approved.

A nonbinding referendum on Election Day revealed about 58 percent of voters countywide favored the mosquito release.

Katie Atkins: 305-440-3219