Last week was a busy one for OSP. Just to name a few of the OSP team’s accomplishments, we released two new resources to assist in implementation of the NIH Policy for Data Management and Sharing (DMS), we hosted Part II of a webinar series on the DMS Policy, and we hosted a meeting of the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) to advance responsible research with potential biosecurity implications.
In case you missed it, the NSABB meeting was the Board’s first opportunity to discuss its working group’s preliminary assessment of the scope and implementation of the OSTP Policy Guidance (and subsequent HHS Framework) for research involving enhanced potential pandemic pathogens (for a refresher on the WG’s charge, see here). Preliminary findings discussed included:
- Modifying the P3CO scope to include pathogens with high transmissibility and low/moderate virulence as well as those with low transmissibility and high virulence;
- Removing exclusions for vaccine development and surveillance work;
- Formalizing roles and responsibilities for investigators and institutions in P3CO identification and oversight;
- Developing additional U.S. government (USG) guidance/education material; and
- Increasing public transparency into the P3CO review process and decision-making.
It is important to note that draft findings and recommendations discussed last week are still preliminary. The NSABB will continue its discussions, taking the input received in this meeting into account along with all the other information gathered during their deliberations and through public input, before making final recommendations to the USG.
At this meeting, the NSABB also heard from experts focused on implementing effective strategies for responsibly communicating dual use research of concern (DURC) methods and results. An age-old question – how do we promote the highest level of transparency in research when there are potential security implications? The question itself hasn’t changed much since our biosecurity polices were developed, but the ways in which information is shared most certainly have. While scholarly publications remain a bedrock of information dissemination, we are seeing an increasing role of social media and preprint servers. Perspectives may differ, but there was general agreement amongst experts that identification of DURC earlier in the research continuum offered more, and potentially better, options for managing potential risks in its communication.
At the end of the day, our policies need to anticipate ways in which science will be conducted in the future to preserve the benefits and mitigate the risks. The second panel of experts focused on this exact issue and highlighted the importance of incentivizing biosafety and biosecurity practices. Quite a bit of discussion focused on equipping the next generation of researchers with the knowledge and tools needed to identify and address dual use research issues. It is vital that all scientists, especially the next generation, review the implications of their research not only through the lens of its benefits, but also its potential risks.
Of course, nothing beats the real thing, so I encourage you to take a look at the NIH Videocast of the event so you can really take stock of the important discussions that were held.
As for next steps, the NSABB will continue to work on its charge, and we expect they will be meeting again sometime in the coming months to present draft findings and recommendations for the entirety of the charge – stay tuned!