BSL-4 Lab Worker - Photo Credit –USAMRIID
The NSABB or National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity is a 23-member review panel, first formed in 2005, who meet rather infrequently and at the behest of the NIH to review research projects with possible biosecurity concerns.
Their role, as defined in their FAQ, is to
` . . . provide advice, guidance, and leadership regarding biosecurity oversight of dual use research to all Federal departments and agencies with an interest in life sciences research.
The NSABB advises on and recommends specific strategies for the efficient and effective oversight of federally conducted or supported dual use biological research, taking into consideration national security concerns and the needs of the research community.’
While frequently in the news in 2011-2012 during the controversy over the publication of the Fouchier H5N1 ferret study (see The Furor Over H5N1 Research Continues), they’ve been idle for roughly two years, with no quests from the NIH to reconvene.
Yesterday, we learned via Science Magazine’s ScienceInsider, that 11 of the original board members have been abruptly informed that their services are no longer required. Gone are such well known (and frequently outspoken) experts as Paul Keim from Northern Arizona University, Arturo Casadevall from Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Michael Imperiale of the University of Michigan, and Michael Osterholm from CIDRAP.
By Jon Cohen
14 July 2014 6:45 pm
On the heels of several mishaps involving deadly pathogens, U.S. officials are reconvening an expert advisory panel that hasn’t met in nearly 2 years. But the government has also dismissed 11 of the original members of the 23-person panel, called the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB).
“We had no inkling it was going to happen this way,” says Paul Keim, a pathogen genomics researcher at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff who formerly chaired NSABB and has been on the panel since it was formed in 2005. The 11 members learned they were being dismissed Sunday evening in an e-mail from the board’s executive director, Mary Groesch, who works at the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), NSABB’s overseer. The e-mail prompted this tweet from NSABB member Michael Imperiale of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor: “#NIH just gave remaining inaugural NSABB members pink sheets. Bizarre time to eliminate all institutional memory.”
In a related matter, yesterday a new initiative appeared online called the Cambridge Working Group, that consists of 17 internationally known experts and researchers (including several former NSABB members) called:
July 14, 2014
Cambridge Working Group Consensus Statement on the Creation of Potential Pandemic Pathogens (PPPs)
Recent incidents involving smallpox, anthrax and bird flu in some of the top US laboratories remind us of the fallibility of even the most secure laboratories, reinforcing the urgent need for a thorough reassessment of biosafety. Such incidents have been accelerating and have been occurring on average over twice a week with regulated pathogens in academic and government labs across the country. An accidental infection with any pathogen is concerning. But accident risks with newly created “potential pandemic pathogens” raises grave new concerns. Laboratory creation of highly transmissible, novel strains of dangerous viruses, especially but not limited to influenza, poses substantially increased risks. An accidental infection in such a setting could trigger outbreaks that would be difficult or impossible to control. Historically, new strains of influenza, once they establish transmission in the human population, have infected a quarter or more of the world’s population within two years.
For any experiment, the expected net benefits should outweigh the risks. Experiments involving the creation of potential pandemic pathogens should be curtailed until there has been a quantitative, objective and credible assessment of the risks, potential benefits, and opportunities for risk mitigation, as well as comparison against safer experimental approaches. A modern version of the Asilomar process, which engaged scientists in proposing rules to manage research on recombinant DNA, could be a starting point to identify the best approaches to achieve the global public health goals of defeating pandemic disease and assuring the highest level of safety. Whenever possible, safer approaches should be pursued in preference to any approach that risks an accidental pandemic.
- Amir Attaran, University of Ottawa
- Barry Bloom, Harvard School of Public Health
- Arturo Casadevall, Albert Einstein College of Medicine
- Richard Ebright, Rutgers University
- Nicholas G. Evans, University of Pennsylvania
- David Fisman, University of Toronto Dalla Lana School of Public Health
- Alison Galvani, Yale School of Public Health
- Peter Hale, Foundation for Vaccine Research
- Edward Hammond, Third World Network
- Michael Imperiale, University of Michigan
- Thomas Inglesby, UPMC Center for Health Security
- Marc Lipsitch, Harvard School of Public Health
- Michael Osterholm, University of Minnesota/CIDRAP
- David Relman, Stanford University
- Richard Roberts, New England Biolabs
- Marcel Salathé, Pennsylvania State University
- Silja Vöneky, University of Freiburg Institute of Public Law, Deutscher Ethikrat
- Affiliations are for purposes of identification only and do not imply any institutional endorsement
A pretty good indication that we can expect continued debate on the topic of lab biosafety, and that many of the recently released members of the NSABB have no intention of going gentle into this good night.