Fouchier decries weaponized H5N1 moratorium

Ron Fouchier, the influenza researcher at the head of team that created an H5N1 avian influenza strain transmissible in humans, recently decried the controversy surrounding his work, including his decision to support a two month moratorium on similar research.

Fouchier, from the Erasmus University in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, led one of two independent teams conducting similar research. The U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity asked the journals Science and Nature not to publish portions of the studies for security reasons, sparking the international debate, according to

With Yoshihiro Kawaoka, the leader of the other team from the University of Wisconsin, Fouchier collected a group of approximately 40 influenza scientists. Together, they have instituted a two month moratorium on the same type of research while the international community debates how to handle scientific studies that could potentially be used by groups determined to develop bioweapons.

"It's a pity that it has to come to this," Fouchier said, reports. "I would have preferred if this hadn't caused so much controversy, but it has happened and we can't change that. So I think it's the right step to make."

Fouchier hopes that infectious diseases specialists will actively take part in the debate, especially in regards to explaining why this type of research is necessary and explaining how it can be done safely. He sees the World Health Organization and the U.S. government shaping the debate and possibly creating a mechanism to safely share such information between scientists.

The NSABB recommendations took Fouchier by surprise and he hopes it will do a better job of explaining how it came to its conclusions.

"This was something that was unprecedented, and something I wasn't counting on at all," Fouchier said, according to "NSABB has said that the risks outweigh the benefits, and now many people are saying: In that case, you shouldn't do this research at all. That's a very logical response.

"But the infectious disease community doesn't agree with NSABB on this. What NSABB should explain better is what the risks are exactly. How much bioterrorism have we seen in the past? What are the chances that bioterrorists will recreate these viruses? And is it really true that publication of this research would give bioterrorists or rogue nations an advantage? That's what I would like to hear from the NSABB."

Fouchier doubts his research would be helpful to terrorists or rogue nations looking to develop a bioweapon, and believes the NSABB failed to examine the potential benefits of his work.

"Bioterrorists can't make this virus, it's too complex, you need a lot of expertise. And rogue nations that do have the capacity to do this don't need our information," Fouchier said, reports. "So I don't think they will benefit from this information at all. Meanwhile, NSABB gives very little credit to the public health benefits, while the entire influenza community is crying just how important that is. For them the balance between risk and benefit is very different than for NSABB."