New government policy addresses H5N1 controversy, raises questions

A policy created by the federal government to regulate the oversight of life sciences dual-use research has addressed the controversy over the publication of two H5N1 avian flu experiments but has also raised questions.

The policy, which was released on March 29 on the National Institutes of Health's website, was followed by a statement from the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity citing the policy for its new recommendation to publish the controversial H5N1 avian flu research. The board changed its stance on a previous recommendation to redact the research heavily, Chemical & Engineering News reports.

"The data described in the revised manuscripts do not appear to provide information that would immediately enable misuse of the research in ways that would endanger public health or national security," the NSABB said, according to Chemical & Engineering News.

The policy establishes regular reviews of research funded or conducted by the U.S. government with particular toxins and pathogens of high consequence. The government has yet to address how the agency reviews will be conducted, who will conduct the reviews, which government officials or advisors developed the policy, and what input the officials received from the scientific community.

A spokesperson for the Office of Science & Technology Policy said that the policy was created through an interagency process and that it would go into effect right away.

Representatives of Science and Nature magazines, periodicals that had previously planned to publish the studies prior to the controversy, expressed satisfaction at the NSABB's recommendation to publish the research.