News Scan for Mar 12, 2015

News brief

Feds award contract for GOF risk-benefit analysis

As part of an ongoing federal review of gain-of-function (GOF) research on H5N1 avian influenza and other disease threats, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on Mar 10 awarded a contract to Gryphon Scientific to formally assess the risks and benefits.

An announcement of the $1.1 million contract appeared yesterday on the Federal Business Opportunities (FBO) Web portal. "GOF" typically refers to experiments that involve enhancing the pathogenicity, transmissibility, or host range of a pathogen, with the aim of better understanding disease pathways and developing vaccines and drugs.

Gryphon Scientific, based in Takoma Park, Md., is a life science analysis group that specializes in chemical and biodefense, food and agricultural safety, infectious disease modeling, and science policy research topics.

The formal assessment is one part of the GOF review process that was announced in October when the Obama administration declared a pause on federally funded GOF research. Since then, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in December held a 2-day debate on the issues, and the NIH has allowed some studies to resume on flu and Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV).

The National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) is leading the review, which is expected to last a year. A second NAS forum is scheduled for a future date to allow comments on draft policy recommendations to come from the NSABB.
Mar 11 FBO post
Feb 25 CIDRAP News story "Experts air concerns about federal gain-of-function review"


Measles cases north of Montreal rise to 188

Measles cases in the Lanaudiere region of Quebec north of Montreal that are linked to California's Disneyland have risen to 188, the Montreal Gazette reported yesterday.

The number is up from just 18 cases on Feb 21. The outbreak began when a child returned from Disneyland and attended class for a day at a school in Joliette before symptoms began. The first case was discovered on Feb 10.

All cases have been in families that were not vaccinated, health officials said. All classmates and school staff that came in contact with the initial case-patient have been ordered to self-quarantine for 14 days.

"The school is collaborating with health authorities to prevent further spread," said Dr. Muriel Lafarge, director of public health for Lanaudiere. "And so far, we've had good enough collaboration from the infected families."

She added that the disease spread quickly because of the many people in large families in the community who have no immunity to measles.

The latest figures from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week indicate 173 US measles cases so far this year. Since December, 142 cases in seven US states have been linked to Disneyland.
Mar 11 Montreal Gazette story


WHO issues guidance on chronic hepatitis B

For the first time, the World Health Organization (WHO) today issued guidance for treating chronic hepatitis B, a condition that the agency said causes an estimated 650,000 deaths each year worldwide, mostly in low- and middle-income nations.

Some 240 million people globally have the disease, which is spread through blood and other bodily fluids and attacks the liver, the WHO said. The highest infection rates are in Africa and Asia.

The guidance covers the full spectrum of care, from determining who needs treatment to what medicines to use and how to monitor people long term, the agency said. Key recommendations include:

  • Using a few simple non-invasive tests to assess the stage of liver disease
  • Prioritizing treatment for those with cirrhosis, the most advanced stage of liver disease
  • Using two safe and highly effective medicines, tenofovir or entecavir, for treatment
  • Employing simple tests for early detection of liver cancer to assess whether treatment is working and when it can be stopped

"Deciding who needs treatment for hepatitis B depends on a number of factors," said Stefan Wiktor, MD, who leads WHO's Global Hepatitis Programme. "These new guidelines, which give treatment recommendations that rely on simple, inexpensive tests, will help clinicians make the right decisions."
Mar 12 WHO news release
WHO guidelines

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