University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Existential Risk Seminar Series > Risks and Benefits of Gain-of-function Pathogen Research

Risks and Benefits of Gain-of-function Pathogen Research

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Nicholas Robinson.

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. The talk will also explore recent developments following the pause in funding for this research announced by the United States Government in October, and steps towards the risk-benefit analysis called for by the announcement.

Professor Derek Smith, Professor of Infectious Disease Informatics at Cambridge, will give a response. A drinks reception will follow.

This talk is part of the Existential Risk Seminar Series series.

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