Has the Institut Pasteur been shut down? Mais non! Stories in the press today suggesting that the venerable Parisian institution has been "closed" or ordered to halt its research have been greatly exaggerated, Pasteur Director-General Christian Bréchot tells ScienceInsider. "The institute is fully working," he says.
But Pasteur is struggling with a public relations fiasco after the discovery, made earlier this year, that it can't account for 2349 vials containing samples from the SARS outbreak in 2003. An independent panel has concluded that the risk for public health is zero, and Pasteur has suspended research in only one of its 18 biosafety level 3 facilities, Bréchot says. But the issue has led to three investigations and has raised questions in the media about the institute's safety procedures.
Today, the website Mediapart published fragments from a leaked letter written by two French Cabinet ministers who listed a series of apparent problems at the lab. "High likelihood of [sample] destruction not ordered by managers and without traceability, two-month delay in reporting the information to responsible authorities, lists of authorized persons not initially available, freezers not secured, absence of video surveillance, archives not available during weekend," wrote research and education minister Benoît Hamon and Marisol Touraine, minister of social affairs, in a letter that Mediapart says was addressed to two government inspectors charged with investigating the issue.