UK scientists criticize White House ban on studies that increase virus potency or transmissibility

BMJ 2014; 349 doi: (Published 21 October 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g6378
  1. Nigel Hawkes
  1. 1London

UK scientists have criticized a ban by the US administration on studies that increase the potency or transmissibility of viruses, saying that such studies were needed to increase understanding of viruses and to improve vaccines against them.

The ban, announced unexpectedly by the White House late last week, came after a voluntary moratorium on such studies that ended in 2013 without resolving the argument between those who said that generating “superstrains” of viruses was too risky and those who defended them as a valuable tool, as long as appropriate precautions against release were in place. The White House acted ahead of a meeting on 22 October of the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity.

Three UK scientists at a briefing in London on 20 October held at the Science Media Centre said that the two published studies into H5N1 flu that started the scare had already produced positive results, including a better understanding of why H5N1 spread easily in birds but …

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