NIH panel votes for more oversight on pathogen research

On Jan. 27, a National Institutes of Health panel unanimously voted in favor of draft recommendations to boost oversight of pathogen research. It is now up to the White House to decide whether to adopt the recommendations, according to a report from The New York Times. 

The draft recommendations include requiring "federal department-level review" of research that has the potential to enhance the transmissibility or virulence of any pathogen, and broadening the definition of pathogens that have potential to cause a pandemic. The National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity also recommended the removal of "blanket" exemptions for research on vaccine development and virus surveillance. 

Some experts have said the proposals are too broad and may create barriers to lower-risk research. 

"There's a lot that could potentially fall into this because it's so vaguely written," Gigi Gronvall, PhD, a biosafety specialist at the Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told the Times. For example, experiments conducted to develop the Ebola vaccine may fall under the new policy, she said. "You could potentially be creating a huge oversight burden … which the government does not have the technical capacity to implement."

The advisory board met days after the U.S. Government Accountability Office published a report indicating HHS does not have a strong framework in place to adequately monitor research involving possible pandemic pathogens. 

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