An outside expert panel that advises the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on biosecurity issues on Jan 20 issued draft recommendations that would tighten oversight of potentially dangerous pathogens, which the group will discuss in a meeting on Jan 27.
In February 2022, the NIH asked the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) to look at existing federal policies on oversight of federally funded research on potential pandemic pathogens and to review government policies on dual-use research (DURC). The NSABB formed two working groups to tackle the reviews, and they published a preliminary report in September.
Among the findings, they said current definitions of potential pandemic pathogens and enhanced versions of them are too narrow, focusing too much on "highly transmissible" and "highly virulent." The experts said current definitions could overlook some research that involves the creation, transfer, or use of pathogens with enhanced potential to trigger a pandemic.
Regarding DURC, the report says government policies have strengthened oversight, but the current framework covers just a small fraction of life sciences research.
The NIH said the review wasn't done in response to concerns that SARS-CoV-2 may have come from a lab, according to the Washington Post. However, the report emphasizes that increased transparency regarding the review process is needed to build public trust in the government's oversight process.
Over the past decades, the NSABB has played a key role in advising the government about its oversight of federally funded pathogen research, tapping it in 2012 to make recommendations about publishing controversial H5N1 avian flu gain-of-function (GOF) studies and in 2016 to provide more clarity on assessing and funding GOF studies.