Posts tagged with Nate Hafer

Anthrax scientist commits suicide

It was reported today in the Los Angeles Times that Bruce E. Ivins, a bioweapons scientist at Ft. Detrick MD has died of an apparent suicide. Ivins died on Tuesday, July 29, 2008 according to an obituary published in the Frederick News-Post. According to the LA Times, Ivins was under investigation in connection with the 2001 anthrax mail attacks and “criminal charges were looming.”

According to the Associated Press, “a U.S. official says federal prosecutors investigating the 2001 anthrax attacks had planned to seek indictment and the death penalty” against Ivins.

Click here for a related story in the Washington Post.

FAS Launches OTA Archive

Today the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) launched the Office of Technology Assessment Archive, The site allows the public to access over 720 reports and documents produced by OTA during its 23 year history, including many that have not been available to the public previously. OTA served as an independent branch of the U.S. Congress that provided nonpartisan science and technology advice from 1972 until it was defunded and forced to close in 1995. Continue Reading →

Public Consultation Meeting of the NSABB

On Tuesday, July 15, 2008 the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) hosted a meeting to solicit public comment on the June 2007 report, “Proposed Framework for the Oversight of Dual Use Life Sciences Research: Strategies for Minimizing the Potential Misuse of Research Information”.

The meeting was broken into three panels that examined different aspects of the framework document, and each panel included several members of the public who shared their perspective on these issues. Continue Reading →

Promoting Mutual Security and Development through Bioscience Cooperation

Yesterday the CUBRC Center for International Science and Technology Advancement held a symposium entitled “Promoting Mutual Security and Development through Bioscience Cooperation”. The meeting focused on ways to promote cooperation and networking across organizations to create a more prosperous and secure world.

Dr. Leonard Marcus of the Department of Health Policy and Management at Harvard University began the day by discussing the qualities of leaders that successfully link disparate groups and organizations.His remarks were especially relevant considering the diverse background and expertise of individuals and organizations involved in cooperative bioscience projects.

Continue Reading →

Public Meeting of the NSABB July 15th

On July 15, 2008, the Federal government will be sponsoring a public consultation to engage the scientific community and research organizations in a discussion of a framework for the oversight of dual use research proposed by the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB). The proposed framework, which has been formally submitted by the Board to the Federal government for its consideration, outlines key features of oversight of dual use research, including criterion for identifying dual use research of concern, local oversight, evaluation and risk assessment of research with dual use potential, responsible communication of research with dual use potential, considerations in developing codes of conduct, and the need for outreach and education. The proposed framework also outlines the roles and responsibilities of key individuals and institutions in managing dual use research, including researchers, research institutions, institutional review entities, the NSABB, and the Federal government.

The public consultation meeting will take place from 8:30 am – 4:00 pm at the Natcher Conference Center (Building 45) on the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Campus in Bethesda, Maryland (Natcher Center – NIH Visitor Information). The meeting will focus on a set of questions, included in Appendix 2 of the NSABB’s proposed oversight framework, on which the government would specifically like to solicit comment. These questions concern such matters as the clarity of the criterion proposed by the Board for identifying dual use research of concern; institutional oversight responsibilities, including how to balance appropriate controls with academic freedom and scientific exchange; and approaches to education to enhance awareness of the issue.

The meeting will be conducted as a series of panels where participants will be asked to discuss particular topics of interest to the government. Each panel will include ample time for in-depth discussion of the issues surrounding each topic.

The meeting is open to the public and free of charge. Due to limited space, pre-registration is encouraged. To register, please connect to: . Notice of this meeting will also be published in the Federal Register. Any groups or individuals who cannot attend the meeting are encouraged to submit in advance of the meeting written comments on the questions found in Appendix 2 of the NSABB’s report to: . Please note that this meeting will not be Web cast.

More information about the NSABB is available at Questions about this meeting can be addressed to Allan C. Shipp, Director of Outreach, NIH Office of Biotechnology Activities, 301-435-2152 or

NBACC director says they will not create threats at lab

The laboratory director of the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center (NBACC), Dr. Patrick Fitch, said yesterday that research at the laboratory will not “create threats in order to study them”. This statement is a welcome change from previous presentations about the lab’s mission.

The controversy about the research goals of the NBACC emerged after Lt. Colonel George Korch, Jr., PhD, gave a powerpoint presentation about the facility in February 2004. According to this talk (the slides are available here), part of the NBACC threat assessment mission would include acquiring, growing, modifying, storing, stabilizing, packaging, and dispersing biological threat agents to determine various properties and capabilities. The presentation also states that the facility will “characterize classical, emerging, and genetically engineered pathogens for their biological threat agent potential” through “computational modeling of feasibility, methods, and scale of production.” These statements, if true, meant that portions of the research planned for the facility could be interpreted to be in violation of Article I of the Biological Weapons Convention, which says that signatory states are not “to develop, produce, stockpile, or otherwise acquire or retain microbial or biological agents, or toxins, that have no justification for prophylactic, protective, or other peaceful purposes.” From Dr. Fitch’s statements today it appears that the research priorities of NBACC have changed since 2004 to minimize the perception that the U.S. will conduct illegal research at this facility.

Dr. Fitch also said that a majority of the research that will occur at the lab will be unclassified, and he is working to develop a policy that will publicly list all of the projects going on at the NBACC, even if some of the research results remain classified. We’ll have to wait and see if these statements actually come true, but for the time being this seems like a positive development.

Monday’s talk was sponsored by the Homeland Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). The Federation of American Scientists has more information about the debate surrounding the NBACC on their website, available here.

National Biodefense Science Board Meeting: Day 1

The National Biodefense Science Board (NBSB) began their inaugural meeting yesterday in Washington DC. The board, made up of 13 voting members and 21 non-voting ex officio representatives, was created as part of the 2006 Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act. The NBSB was chartered with the task of providing expert advice to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary on science, technology, and other matters of special interest on chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear issues, including both naturally occurring and deliberate events.

The members include Patricia Quinlisk (Iowa Dept. of Public Health, chair), James J. James (American Medical Association), Steve Cantrell (Denver Health Medical Center), Eric Rose (SIGA Technologies), Albert Di Rienzo (Welch Allyn), Ken Dretchen (Georgetown University Biosecurity Institute), John Grabenstein (Merck Vaccine Division), Ruth Berkelman (Emory University , Thomas MacVittie (University of Maryland School of Medicine), John Parker (SAIC), Andrew Pavia (University of Utah Medical Center) Roberta Carlin (American Association on Health and Disability), and Patrick Scannon (XOMA).

After the morning introductory session, the group listened to several talks presented by executive branch officials that discussed current US Government policies on preparedness and response. After this, the group heard another series of talks that outlined possible topics and issues that the NBSB could focus on initially. The broadly defined proposed topics, developed by officials at HHS, are as follows- an evaluation of research and development components of the HHS influenza preparedness strategy, innovation and medical countermeasure development, how to address gaps in the medical countermeasures marketplace, modeling and metrics to inform medical consequence assessment, and considerations for special and at-risk populations.

Today the group will make decisions about how to go forward as a board. The group will try to prioritize topics and determine how to fulfill their charge. Since the mandate to the NBSB is so broad, many members agreed that it is important to determine the group’s focus in a way that considers issues based on their timeliness and achievability.

The agenda for the meeting is here
NBSB main page
Members list

Written by Nate Hafer

National Research Council Report slams NIH findings on Boston U containment lab

The National Research Council (NRC) just released a report that finds that “a National Institutes of Health draft assessment of the risks associated with a proposed biocontainment laboratory at Boston University is “not sound and credible.””

The NRC report came in response to a request by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for technical input into the scientific adequacy of the NIH study. The NIH study, known as the Draft Supplemental Environmental Report (DSER), was to perform additional risk assessments and site analyses in response to environmental safety concerns raised in an earlier Federal court ruling.

From the NRC report cover letter:

The NRC committee was asked to address three specific questions:

1. Are the scientific analyses in the DSER sound and credible?
Overall, the Committee believes that the DSER as drafted is not sound and credible.

2. Has the NIH identified representative worst case scenarios?
The DSER as drafted has not adequately identified and thoroughly developed worst case scenarios.

3. Based on the comparison of risk associated with alternative locations, is there a greater risk to public health and safety from the location of the facility in one or another proposed location?
The DSER does not contain the appropriate level of information to compare the risks associated with alternative locations.

This latest report is unfortunate, but not unexpected in this case. The handling of the new BU lab has been mishandled on just about every conceivable level and has led to community distrust and has unfairly marked other biocontainment facilities with a scarlet letter. That the report was simply a draft is a poor excuse in this case because everyone involved was aware of the controversy surrounding the BU facility. This case is certainly cause for a serious re-evaluation of practices associated with the expansion of US biodefense capabilities and, at the very least, a system of checks and balances that prevent this brand of folly from ever happening again.

For the full NRC report click here.

To see the draft NIH study in question click here.

For a copy of the news release from the NRC, visit here.

Written with Nate Hafer.