NIH urged to change system of biomedical research review

In an editorial for Bloomberg, the National Institutes of Health are urged to look back to a system for biomedical research review that was recommended eight years ago.
The National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity made a rare request in December that scientific journals leave certain details out of research into a genetically engineered strain of H5N1 that was highly transmissible from mammal to mammal. The panel was worried that terrorists might exploit the results of the study to create their own lethal and contagious virus, Bloomberg reports.
"(The reports should omit) methodological and other details that could enable replication of the experiments by those who would seek to do harm," the panel said, according to Bloomberg.
The panel also recommended that the scientists only share data with legitimate scientists who need it. The issue is that there are hundreds of scientists who may require data from the study. The editorial suggests that the NIH take up a new review process.
"Such a review process was recommended eight years ago by a committee of the National Academy of Sciences," the editors wrote, according to Bloomberg. "Known as the Fink Committee, for its chairman, Gerald Fink, a genetics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, this group listed seven classes of experiments that should come under review, including those aimed at rendering a vaccine ineffective, conferring resistance to antibiotics or making a pathogen more virulent or transmissible. The Department of Health and Human Services didn’t take up this recommendation in 2004, but the new studies of bird flu demonstrate why it should be reconsidered."
While scientists may have issue with the idea of review and restriction, it may be required to prevent terrorists from getting the information they need to plan an attack.
"The principle is clear," the editors wrote, according to Bloomberg. "In terrorism’s information age, some information needs to be handled with care. At the same time, we can’t let a review system hamper vital work on dangerous pathogens. As virologists know, nature can conduct bioterrorism on its own, with no help from science. And researchers must be able to do all they can to stay one step ahead."

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National Institutes of Health

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