The U.S. government will undertake a deliberative process to assess the risks and benefits of certain gain-of-function (GOF) experiments with influenza, SARS and MERS viruses in order to develop a new federal policy regarding the funding of this research, announced Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., NIH director, in a statement. U.S. government agencies will institute a pause on the funding of any new studies involving these experiments.
For purposes of the deliberative process and this funding pause, GOF studies refers to scientific research that increases the ability of any of these infectious agents to cause disease by enhancing its pathogenicity or by increasing its transmissibility among mammals by respiratory droplets.
NIH has funded such studies because they help define the fundamental nature of human-pathogen interactions, enable the assessment of the pandemic potential of emerging infectious agents, and inform public health and preparedness efforts. These studies, however, also entail biosafety and biosecurity risks, which need to be understood better.
NIH will be adhering to this funding pause until the robust and broad deliberative process described by the White House—including consultation with the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) and input from the National Research Council of the National Academies—is completed.
During this pause, NIH will not provide new funding for any projects involving these experiments and encourages those currently conducting this type of work, whether federally funded or not, to voluntarily pause their research while the government determines how to proceed.
Public involvement in this deliberative process is key, and the process is thus designed to be transparent, accessible and open to input from all sources.