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Government Suspends Gain of Function Research on Various Viruses

October 24, 2014— The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced Oct. 17 a government moratorium on research that could enhance the pathogenicity or transmissibility — known as “gain of function” studies — of influenza, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) viruses while a more deliberate policy can be worked out.

The announcement follows recent biosafety incidents at federal research facilities and highlights commitment from the U.S. government to enhance the nation’s biosafety and biosecurity, specifically regarding the storage and handling of infectious agents.

The moratorium states, “Because the deliberative process launching today will aim to address key questions about the risks and benefits of gain-of-function studies, during the period of deliberation, the U.S. Government will institute a pause on funding for any new studies that include certain gain-of-function experiments involving influenza, SARS, and MERS viruses.”

The statement further clarifies, “the funding pause will apply to gain-of-function research projects that may be reasonably anticipated to confer attributes to influenza, MERS, or SARS viruses such that the virus would have enhanced pathogenicity and/or transmissibility in mammals via the respiratory route.”

Applicable researchers, whether federally funded or not, are requested to voluntarily suspend such studies during the deliberation period.  Deliberation will be conducted by the National Science Advisory Board on Biosecurity (NSABB), which will serve as the official federal advisory body for guidance of dual-use research, as well as the National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academies.

The NRC and NSABB are seeking public input throughout the deliberative process from the broader life-sciences community. The funding pause is expected to end after the deliberative process, once federal policy has been finalized.


Stephen Heinig
Director, Science Policy
Telephone: 202-828-0488


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