Dutch officials approve publication of Fouchier's H5N1 study

Apr 27, 2012 (CIDRAP News) – The Dutch government has granted virologist Ron Fouchier, PhD, an export license that allows him to submit his much-debated H5N1 transmissibility paper to Science, according to a ScienceInsider report published today.

"Now we can move on," Fouchier told ScienceInsider.

His report details how he and his colleagues developed an H5N1 virus capable of airborne spread among ferrets. Since the study was first described in general terms last September, it has been controversial because of concern that the findings could be exploited to unleash a virus that could spark a human pandemic.

The Dutch government's decision was made by Henk Bleker, minister for agriculture and foreign trade, and announced in a press release (in Dutch) today, according to ScienceInsider. It follows an Apr 23 meeting in The Hague at which government officials discussed the research with scientists and security experts.

The announcement came exactly four weeks after the US National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) reversed an earlier recommendation and, on a 12-6 vote, endorsed publication of Fouchier's report in full. The US National Institutes of Health endorsed the board's recommendation on Apr 20.

According to ScienceInsider, the Dutch announcement states, "Minister Bleker has weighed all of the benefits and risks of publication of the avian influenza research, and has especially looked at the freedom of research and publication, health, and safety. He has also taken into consideration insights from national and international experts in the areas of security, health, and research; the positive advice of the U.S. National Science Advisory Board on Biosecurity to the US government about publication of the research; and the US government's decision to follow that advice."

Fouchier had opposed the export-permit requirement and at one point vowed he would submit his manuscript without applying for one. But more recently he agreed to apply for the license, while protesting the need for it.

The scientist said he was pleased but not surprised by the government decision and commented that it would have been "strange" if the government had ruled the other way in the wake of the NSABB's recommendation and other developments, according to ScienceInsider.

His revised manuscript will still need to go through peer review at Science, according to previous reports.

When the NSABB endorsed full publication of Fouchier's study, it also voted for full publication of a similar study led by Yoshihiro Kawaoka, DVM, of the University of Wisconsin. The vote on Kawaoka's study, expected to be published in Nature, was unanimous, unlike the decision on Fouchier's.

See also:

Apr 27 ScienceInsider story

Apr 17 CIDRAP News story "Fouchier plans to flout Dutch export law, publish H5N1 study"

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