Flu Research Moratorium Should Continue, Fauci Says

Although the contention over whether to publish two controversial H5N1 avian influenza studies appears to be waning, researchers should continue to abide by a voluntary moratorium on certain types of studies involving the virus, a senior U.S. science official said today.

There should be "an extension on the moratorium," which was originally supposed to expire on 20 March, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) told a U.S. Senate panel today. "The question is for how long."

The comments came at a hearing held by the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs into the risk posed by "dual use" research that carries both benefits and risks. The hearing was prompted, in large part, by the H5N1 controversy, said Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), the chair of the panel. "Although this particular issue appears to have been resolved, it's going to recur and we can't just 'kick this can down the road' and deal with it on an ad hoc basis when it happens again."

Four witnesses, including Fauci, discussed the process that led to a decision by the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) to support publication of the two papers, and new U.S. government rules designed to identify taxpayer-funded dual use research of concern before it begins. They also responded to criticism of the NSABB process by one of the panel's members, Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, in a letter first obtained by ScienceInsider.

Look for more details on the hearing tomorrow on ScienceInsider.