Global Security Newswire
Daily News on Nuclear, Biological & Chemical Weapons, Terrorism and Related Issues
Duration of Bird Flu Research Restrictions Remains Uncertain
Observers remain uncertain of the timing and means for ending a pause on investigations into factors needed to render avian influenza communicable between mammals, though half a year has passed since top flu experts unilaterally declared the suspension, the Canadian Press reported on Friday (see GSN, June 22).
Bioterrorism concerns prompted the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity last year to recommend keeping some information out of research articles produced from U.S.-funded work at the Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands and the University of Wisconsin (Madison) that increased the transmissibility of the flu virus. Circulation of the unredacted studies ultimately took place with support from the federal panel, which backed the move in March following the submission of new data from the two scientific teams.
Restrictions remain in effect for further related studies, though they were originally intended to expire after 60 day. Finding an adequate process for ending the curb is an anticipated focus for a meeting this week of the Centers of Excellence for Influenza Research and Surveillance, according to the Canadian Press (see GSN, Jan. 23).
The group -- a part of the U.S. National Institute off Allergy and Infectious Diseases -- was set on Monday to launch its three-day yearly conference, the news agency reported. The organization was thought to have reached a determination on the matter in recent weeks, but it has provided no public declaration or justification for deferring its decision.
"I very much hope ... that no decision is made at that meeting," Stanford University life sciences expert and NSABB participant David Relman said. "I think that would be a terrible mistake for this particular sequestered private group to make a declaration and decide on their own that the moratorium has been lifted. I think that would be a terrible thing."
"The most important point is that this can't be a self-proclaimed decision or assessment by a very narrow group of people behind closed doors. This has to be an open process," Relman added. "It really has to involve all of the other sectors of the scientific research community and all of the other kinds of communities that have a vested interest, including policy-makers, including the national security community, including the general public."
Italian flu expert Ilaria Capua voiced concern over the controversy's potential to establish a precedent for handling studies of other sensitive pathogens.
"Where's this going to take us?" Capua asked. "When are we going to have another moratorium because somebody else comes up with a virus that we don't want to have in many labs around the world?" (Helen Branswell, Canadian Press/Vancouver Sun, July 27).
Relman said "the moratorium should be continued until a broader, dispassionate, international discussion can be held to carefully consider the risks and benefits," the London Independent reported.
Microbiologist Richard Roberts said elimination of the restrictions on studies would be "“a big mistake at this point."
"The flu community is behaving as if they are the only show in town. I think for them to be allowed to create the most dangerous virus around is sheer lunacy,” Roberts said.
“I’m not so much worried about terrorism but I am worried about an accidental escape from a laboratory," the expert added. "If it’s as dangerous as they believe, it could kill half the world’s population.”
University of Pennsylvania vaccine authority Stanley Plotkin has called on NIAID Director Anthony Fauci to keep the curbs in force. “History is full of incidents of escape of microorganisms from laboratories, and scientists are not always good at risk evaluation,” Plotkin said (Steve Connor, London Independent, July 27).
March 12, 2013
The UNSCR 1540 Resource Collection examines implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540, which requires all states to implement measures aimed at preventing non-state actors from acquiring NBC weapons, related materials, and their means of delivery. It details implementation efforts in all of the regions and countries of the world to-date.
Nov. 27, 2012
In this issue brief, senior experts at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies examine eight nonproliferation decisions that the second Obama administration cannot avoid.
This article provides an overview of the United States’ historical and current policies relating to nuclear, chemical, biological and missile proliferation.