International taskforce launched to address risks of lab-based pathogen outbreaks

By John Pope | September 21, 2022

Today, a group of scientists and public health leaders, convened by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, launched an international taskforce to consider trends and oversight of high-risk pathogen research. This follows the WHO’s recent release of the “Global guidance framework for the responsible use of the life sciences: mitigating biorisks and governing dual-use research.” 

Over the next few months, the initiative on “Creating the Framework for Tomorrow’s Pathogen Research” will discuss risk assessment and mitigation, including lab-based outbreak risks.   A public-facing conference in Geneva, Switzerland on April 19-21, 2023, will include task force members, policy leaders, journalists, scientists, and civic leaders, among others, and will produce a summary report with recommendations for a comprehensive global approach to management of extremely high-risk biological research. 

“As biological research advances our safeguards must also advance. As a scientific community, we need clear norms and prohibitions for dangerous materials and practices,” said project co-chair Dr. Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, the sixth- and first-woman president of the Republic of Mauritius. She is joined in leading the project by fellow co-chairs Ravindra Gupta, professor of clinical microbiology at the Cambridge Institute for Therapeutic Immunology and Infectious Diseases; Shahid Jameel, Sultan Qaboos bin Said fellow and principal investigator, Project on ‘Public Health, Science and Technology in Muslim Societies’ at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies; and David Relman, Thomas C. and Joan M. Merigan professor in medicine, professor of microbiology & immunology, and senior fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University and member of the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board.   

“The project is not meant to be the final word on the issue, our aim is to catalyze an inclusive and broad discussion among scientists and other interested stakeholders of the risks and benefits of potential pandemic pathogen research, and how such research may be conducted in a maximally de-risked manner,” said Dr. Jesse Bloom project co-director, professor at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center and Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. 

Fellow co-director of the project and Reader (Associate Professor) in Science & International Security at King’s College London, Dr. Filippa Lentzos, said “We believe that creating a new forum for an international network of experts that crosses disciplines is a crucial step to develop responsible and sustainable practices to mitigate risks of both lab-based and zoonotic outbreaks, and to reduce the chances that we or future generations will suffer through another pandemic as devastating as COVID-19.” 

“We are very excited to partner with the taskforce’s leaders and funders like Bill and Amy Gurley on this project,” said Rachel Bronson, president and CEO of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists which is organizing the project. “Since our founding one of the Bulletin’s key goals has been to provide a forum for scientific leaders to examine the broader implications of their research.” 

More information about the conference and the project can be found here. 


Media Contact: John Pope, [email protected], 717-386-9270 

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