Tuesday, 16 January, 2018

Brainstorm Health: NIH Virus Funding, Obamacare Mandate Repeal, Pharma Sales and Profits

Colorized transmission electron micrograph of Avian influenza A H5N1 viruses grown in MDCK cells CDC Cynthia Goldsmith
Steve Townsend | 21 December, 2017, 03:20

The National Institutes of Health will allow funding for research to make some viruses more unsafe and easier to spread. On the one hand, tweaking a virus to make it more contagious might help scientists understand what lets a virus like bird flu, for example, make the jump from infecting birds to spreading among people.

Would you take a deadly pathogen like the influenza, SARS, or MERS virus and make it even deadlier?

The federal government has made a decision to lift a three-year ban on experimenting with controversial, deadly germs that have the potential to cause pandemics.

"We have a responsibility to ensure that research with infectious agents is conducted responsibly, and that we consider the potential biosafety and biosecurity risks associated with such research", Collins said in a statement posted on NIH's website.

Critics say such "gain-of-function" research still risks creating an accidental pandemic. That is, so-called "gain of function" research in pathogens may help scientists anticipate how viruses may spread and evolve, and therefore how to stop them from leading to unmanageable pandemics.

Officials embarked on an effort to come up with a regulatory process that would weigh the risks and the benefits of experiments, with input from the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

Flu elevated to 'widespread' in Ohio
As for how effective this year's vaccine will be? "We have to wait and see what happens from there", he said. Wu said they typically start to see flu cases diminish toward the end of April.


"I am not persuaded that the work is of greater potential benefit than potential harm", said molecular biologist Richard Ebright of Rutgers University, who has argued that US labs working with risky pathogens regularly suffer serious biosafety lapses.

The new plan is to add an extra review step by a "multidisciplinary group" in the Department of Health and Human Services.

The new regulations would allow such work, as well as other research, Collins said.

Michael Osterholm, PhD, MPH, director of the University of Minnesota's Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP), said that he is most concerned about public health implications if details about the experiments become publicly available, a process which the new framework doesn't spell out.

He says his team will likely apply for approval to study the potential for certain mutations to increase how easily bird flu can be transmitted among humans, but they would study the effect of these genetic changes in weakened flu viruses and not the deadly H7N9 virus itself.

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