February 28, 2022

Statement on charge to the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity to review scope and effectiveness of two U.S. Government biosecurity policy frameworks

Today, HHS convened the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB), a Federal advisory committee that provides expert advice, guidance, and recommendations to the U.S. Government (USG) on biosecurity oversight of dual use research. The Board provides broad and diverse expertise and its deliberations and recommendations have informed the USG’s policy development on biosecurity for more than 15 years. Working with our USG partners, I delivered a charge to the committee to thoroughly review the scope and effectiveness of two major U.S. biosecurity policy frameworks governing:

The charge discussed today builds upon the charge issued to the NSABB in January 2020 to 1) provide recommendations on balancing security and public transparency when sharing information about research with enhanced potential pandemic pathogens and 2) evaluate and analyze the U.S. Dual Use Research of Concern (DURC) policies. The January 2020 charge was put on hold due to the rapid escalation of the COVID-19 pandemic to allow members to prioritize COVID-19 research response activities at their home institutions.

Research involving pathogens is vital for ensuring the United States is prepared to rapidly detect, respond to, and recover from future infectious disease threats. Such research can be inherently high risk given the possibility of biosafety lapses or deliberate misuse. However, not doing this type of research could impair our ability to prepare for and/or respond to future consequential biological threats. Recent outbreaks from viruses such as SARS-CoV-1, H1N1, Ebola, Zika, West Nile, and SARS-CoV-2 underscore the threats posed by infectious pathogens are not theoretical and the potential for societal disruption is substantial. Historically, the NSABB has played an important role in advising the federal government on strengthening oversight of life sciences research, and I want to thank the Board in advance for their expert input which will help ensure we continue to have robust policies in place that effectively balance science and security, and safely enable critical, life-saving research.

Future NSABB meetings will be posted on the NSABB Meetings page.

Lawrence A. Tabak, D.D.S., Ph.D.
Acting Director, NIH