Via Nature News & Comment, a report by Declan Butler and Heidi Ledford: US biosecurity board moves towards publication of revised mutant flu studies. Excerpt:
The US National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) today recommended the publication of two controversial avian flu papers.
In December 2011, the board said that experimental details of the two studies should be redacted from any publications, because of concerns that the information could be used in a bioterror attack. The board also feared that publishing the details would prompt more laboratories to work on the viruses, making an accidental release more likely.
Today, after a two-day meeting, the board decided to revise its earlier decision. The NSABB unanimously recommended full publication of one of the two disputed papers, a manuscript submitted to Nature by Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconsin and his colleagues.
“We at Nature are delighted,” said Nature’s editor-in-chief, Philip Campbell. “Subject to any outstanding regulatory or legal issues, we intend to proceed with publication as soon as possible.”
But in a 12 to 6 vote, the board advised only the publication of the data, methods, and conclusions of a second manuscript, submitted to Science by Ron Fouchier of Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands.
Kawaoka says he believes that the board’s revised decision was influenced by a better understanding of the public health implications of the work, which described the changes in a key viral protein called hemagglutinin that could make avian flu more transmissible among mammals. “We were able to explain that very few mutations are needed for the hemagglutinin of the currently circulating H5N1 viruses to become a hemagglutinin that supports respiratory droplet transmission in ferrets.” he says
The revised NSABB opinion brings the board closer in line with the World Health Organization, which last month advised full publication of both papers. The NSABB is only an independent advisory board, and the US government has yet to weigh in with any official decision on the new NSABB recommendations.
Publication of the manuscripts may also be impacted by export controls in various countries. Such controls can be used to regulate the dissemination of restricted information.
Dr. Vincent Racaniello, who has been very involved in this debate, has also posted some comments on his Virology Blog.
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