NIH working on guidance for compliance with DURC policy

Officials with the federal government are preparing guidance to aid local laboratories in implementing the new policy on the oversight of life-sciences dual-use research of concern.

Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, announced that the NIH plans to put the guidance out for public comment in the next few weeks. He spoke at a National Academies-hosted workshop on H5N1 research issues. Fauci said that the NIH looks forward to learning what aspects of the new DURC policy will be difficult to implement locally, CIDRAP News reports.

The federal government released a new policy for overseeing DURC on March 29. The policy came on the heels of two recent controversial studies related to H5N1 that brought up concerns of scientific censorship and bioterrorism. The policy required federal agencies to routinely review the potential risks of federally funded studies that involve 15 toxins and pathogens of high consequence, including the Ebola virus, anthrax and H5N1.

The policy gives institutional biosafety committees at universities and other research organizations a set of difficult tasks. IBC expert groups have been built up over time, but a fair number may lack specialized expertise for certain pathogens and may have a conflict of interest since they are the ones conducting the research in question.

David Franz, the chief biological scientist at the Midwest Research Institute in Kansas City, Mo., said that he had worries about the scientific community taking on an added layer of regulation.

"We should think about changing behavior as well, not just regulating," Franz said, according to CIDRAP News. "We can't forget that it's a competitive world and a dangerous world."