Biosecurity Scan for Dec 17, 2014

Next steps on GOF policy
More misplaced microbes found

Risk-benefit analysis is next step toward policy on GOF research

In the wake of this week's symposium on gain-of-function (GOF) virologic research, the next step is for a federal advisory panel to develop plans for a risk-benefit analysis of such studies, says a spokeswoman for the National Academy of Sciences (NAS).

The Obama administration recently suspended funding for GOF research on influenza and two other viruses to allow time to develop a federal policy. To launch the policy development effort, the 2-day symposium earlier this week aired scientific and technical questions related to GOF research. It was hosted by the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine.

The term "GOF" generally refers to experiments that involve enhancing the pathogenicity, transmissibility, or host range of a pathogenic microbe, in the interest of better understanding disease pathways and developing vaccines and drugs.

NAS spokeswoman Jennifer Walsh said a summary of the symposium will be provided to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) in January and will also be made available to the public via the National Academies Press Web site.

The summary should help the NSABB as it works with a contractor to develop a "risk/benefit analysis structure" on GOF research, Walsh told CIDRAP News. After the NSABB publishes the analysis structure, the NAS will hold a second conference to allow for public comments on it, she added.

The estimated timing for the second meeting is July 2015, but it will depend on when the draft plan is released, Walsh said. She also noted that a video recording of this week's symposium should be available online next week.
Dec 12 CIDRAP News item on GOF symposium
Oct 17 CIDRAP News item on funding pause


Government search turns up more misplaced lab pathogens

The months-long sweep of government labs in the wake of the summertime discovery of security breaches involving anthrax, smallpox, and other disease pathogens has turned up yet more previously unaccounted-for pathogens, including ricin and a deadly form of avian flu virus, the Washington Post reported yesterday.

The sweep was ordered after lab workers were potentially exposed to Bacillus anthracis—which causes anthrax—at a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lab in June, followed in July by the discovery of smallpox vials on the campus of the National Institutes of Health and a CDC breach involving highly pathogenic avian flu viruses. The search has involved nearly a dozen federal agencies, 4,000 labs, and more than 40 million samples, the Post noted. The latest findings were released yesterday.

On Sep 5 officials said the search at that point had turned up other misplaced microbes, including those that cause plague, tularemia, melioidosis, botulism, and a certain foodborne disease, as well as ricin. In late August officials had asked federally funded labs to suspend all work for about 24 hours to conduct microbe inventories.

The pathogens discovered in recent weeks included vials of virulent avian flu virus at US Department of Agriculture labs in Iowa and Georgia and samples of botulinum toxin at a CDC lab. The Post story did not specify the strain of avian flu, but it said those samples and the botulinum toxin were destroyed.

It added that other microbe samples were transferred to labs authorized to house them. Officials said all samples of dangerous pathogens were safely stored and there was no evidence to suggest anyone was exposed to them.
Dec 16 Washington Post story
Sep 5 CIDRAP News scan on previous lab discoveries

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