Additional Discussion Needed Before Final Decision Made On Publication Of Bird Flu Studies

Attendees of a recent WHO meeting that discussed the possible publication in the journals Nature and Science of two studies that modified H5N1 bird flu strains to show the virus could be more easily transmissible among humans decided publication of redacted versions would be ineffective and that “a system for distributing the full paper only to selected individuals would be impossible to set up on any relevant timescale,” a Nature editorial states. Participants also learned “not only does the mammalian transmissibility threat seem greater than previously thought, but also that current avian viruses have some of the mutations identified in the new work,” according to the editorial.

In addition, “the biosecurity objections expressed” by the U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) “seem too general and hypothetical to justify obstructing publication and further research,” the editorial states. “Therefore, further discussion is essential,” including “a review of the safety regimes (lab equipment, buildings and practices) in which future work should be conducted,” according to Nature. “As was agreed by the journals and the lead authors at the meeting, publication of the papers must wait at least for the outcome of those discussions. There may yet be regulatory or legal obstacles to publication, or biosecurity or biosafety risks sufficient to outweigh the health risks. Otherwise, it is Nature’s view that the papers should ultimately be published in full,” the editorial concludes (2/22).

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