H5N1 researchers wary of proposed HHS funding framework

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services sponsored a workshop on Wednesday and Thursday to work on the framework for funding gain-of-function research for highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 viruses.

The workshop provided a forum for scientists to share perspectives on research that attempts to increase host range, pathogenicity or transmissibility of HPAI H5N1 viruses. The forum, which was held at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, included discussions about the implications of the research for global public health, risks and concerns connected with the research, risks of not conducting the research, principles regarding research conduct and oversight and conditions under which the research could be conducted.

The workshop is the latest installment in a scientific controversy triggered by the publication of two lab-engineered H5N1 studies in May and June. The H5N1 community agreed to a 60-day research moratorium early in the debate. The moratorium has lasted for nearly a year, CIDRAP News reports.

Nancy Cox, the director of the influenza division at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that the pause in H5N1 research is limiting preparedness activities.

"We've had to put our work on hold," Cox said, according to CIDRAP News. "There is a tremendous amount of work that has simply not been able to take place."

The meeting was meant to provoke discussions between scientists and health officials related to the risks and benefits of gain-of-function H5N1 studies.

Tom Inglesby, the chief executive officer for the Center for Biosecurity at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, said that while basic research has yielded benefits, it is not enough to justify the risks.

The HHS plans to submit a summary and video of the meeting at a later date, CIDRAP News reports.

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