Risks and benefits of gain-of-function experiments in potentially pandemic pathogens - Professor Marc Lipsitch

Professor Derek Smith, Professor of Infectious Disease Informatics at Cambridge, gives a response.

Abstract: “A growing trend in experimental virology has been the modification of influenza viruses that are antigenically novel to, and virulent in humans, such that these variant viruses are readily transmissible in mammals, including ferrets which are thought to be the best animal model for influenza infection. Novel, contagious, virulent viruses are potential pandemic pathogens in that their accidental or malevolent release into the human population could cause a pandemic. This talk describes the purported benefits of such studies, arguing that these are overstated; estimates the magnitude of the risk they create, argues for the superiority of alternative scientific approaches on both safety and scientific grounds, and proposes an ethical framework in which such experiments should be evaluated. The talk also explores recent developments following the pause in funding for this research announced by the United States Government in October, and steps towards the risk-benefit analysis called for by the announcement”

About the speaker

Professor Lipsitch is a professor of epidemiology and the Director of the Centre for Communicable Disease Dynamics at Harvard University. He is one of the founders of the Cambridge Working group, which calls for a “quantitative, objective and credible assessment of the risks, potential benefits, and opportunities for risk mitigation” of gain of function experiments in potentially pandemic pathogen strains.

For more on the scientific debate, see “Gain-of-function experiments: time for a real debate”.

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