Senate committee calls for more oversight on risky biological research

Paul Keim

Senators raised concerns about oversight issues on government funded biological research at a Thursday hearing of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

“When the American people pay for scientific research intended for the common good, they have a right to expect that their money will not be used to facilitate terrorism,” Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) said, referring to the recent controversy surrounding NIH funded research to create a highly contagious airborne form of the H5N1 bird flu virus. “These are not hypothetical threats.”

Democrats and Republicans both stressed the importance of enacting more oversight for any sort of dual use research.

“We need to put in place better systems to track this kind of research at each experimental stage rather than waiting till its ready for publication to make decisions about what can or can’t be revealed,” Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) said.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, and Dr. Paul Keim, the chair of the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, agreed with the senators’ remarks, but also warned against the possibility of regulatory oversight stifling future research.

“It is critical that we establish policy that intensely monitors high potential dual use research of concern from cradle to grave in order to protect us from misuse, but also to free low-potential DURC research from onerous regulations,” Keim said.

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