Global Security Newswire
Daily News on Nuclear, Biological & Chemical Weapons, Terrorism and Related Issues
Recommendations for Avian Flu Research Access Expected in Weeks
The United States intends "within the next couple of weeks" to issue advisories on releasing sensitive information from recent bird flu studies to relevant officials and scientists, the journal Nature on Wednesday quoted a key U.S. official as saying (see GSN, Jan. 4).
The U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity last month urged scientific teams at Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands and the University of Wisconsin (Madison) to withhold certain data from separate studies that yielded versions of the virus more contagious among humans. The scientists who carried out the research agreed to hold back details of their work while going ahead with publishing the findings, according to previous reporting.
"There are great efforts under way right now [to prepare the access recommendations], with people working deep into the night seven days a week," said Amy Patterson, who heads the Science Policy Office at the National Institutes of Health.
"We’re pushing to have something ready in the next couple of weeks," said Patterson, whose office oversees the federal panel that recommended withholding information from the studies. "It will be a learning experience that we’ll go through with the scientific community, with the public and with the international community. Whatever mechanism is put in place will need to evolve in light of that experience."
Addressing the potential to establish a binding regulatory mechanism for overseeing studies with possible security implications, Patterson stressed the importance of reviewing research at more than one point in the process.
"Even with the research aims and objectives set out in advance, exactly what the research is going to show on a day-to-day basis can’t be predicted at the outset or captured in an annual report. Whatever system is put in place needs to have both aspects: some consideration up front when the work is funded, but also a component of local oversight and review. It starts with the investigator -- he or she knows best what is emerging out of their work. But we also need a level of institutional review to provide a second set of eyes taking a fresh look. The earlier something is recognized, the more options for management you have," she said.
"Different institutions might have different groups best suited to take this on, but I think it would be a review panel that is equipped to look at infectious disease and biosafety risks posed by a body of work, but which would also be comfortable with thinking about security issues. That’s somewhat unchartered territory, particularly for some institutions.
"The U.S. government will be coming out with a draft policy that will present a comprehensive framework for oversight of dual-use research, and the local review component of that will be outlined," Patterson added. "This will be very much informed by our recent experiences. There will also be an opportunity for comment from the scientific community, from institutions, and of course from the general public. So people will have a chance to weigh in and help shape what the ultimate requirements will be."
The government would aim to release the preliminary policy "early this spring," she said (Heidi Ledford, Nature, Jan. 11).
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.
Aug. 6, 2012
An annotated chronology of biological-related developments in North Korea