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Should We Be Making Potential Pandemic Pathogens in the Lab?

  • Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center, Bell Hall Cambridge, MA USA (map)

Talk Description: 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 will describe the purported benefits of such studies, arguing that these are overstated; estimate the magnitude of the risk they create, argue for the superiority of alternative scientific approaches on both safety and scientific grounds, and propose an ethical framework in which such experiments should be evaluated.

Prof. Lipsitch will discuss the science policy, bioethical and biosafety issues raised and the recent developments in this field including the US Government funding pause on such experiments announced by the White House on October 17, 2014.

Marc Lipsitch is Professor of Epidemiology with primary appointment in the Department of Epidemiology and a joint appointment in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, where his wet lab is located. He directs the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, a center of excellence funded by the MIDAS program of NIH/NIGMS. He is also the Associate Director of the Interdisciplinary Concentration in Infectious Disease Epidemiology.

Sponsored by Harvard University Effective Altruism and The Future Society at HKS.