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Special Review for H5N1 Grants?

Last week (November 27), the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced a proposal that would require that some grant applications involving the H5N1 avian influenza virus—which became the source of much debate earlier this year when researchers evolved the deadly virus to be transmissible between mammals—undergo additional department-wide or government-wide review. The draft plan also indicates that it might be appropriate to keep the work secret, ScienceInsider reported.

It "attempts to set forth a conceptual framework for how we might approach, at least within HHS [the Department of Health and Human Services] . . . decisions about what we would be willing to fund or not fund," associate NIH director for science policy Amy Patterson told a meeting of the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) last week. The proposal would only subject applications to additional rounds of review if they include plans to manipulate the virus to increase transmissibility, pathogenicity, or host range, Patterson added; today, there have been just four or five such proposals submitted to the NIH.

But not everyone is happy with the proposal as it stands. It has been “very controversial” within the committee that developed it, Patterson said.

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