Select Agent Program and Biosafety Engagement

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) today commented on the important role life-sciences researchers and public health workers play in mitigating the threat of infectious diseases in the United States and around the world.

“Working with pathogens in the laboratory is vital to ensuring that the United States and the global community have the right cutting-edge tools—such as drugs, diagnostics, and vaccines—to counter the ever evolving threat of infectious disease and ensure biomedical progress,” stated OSTP officials. “It is also the responsibility of the Government to ensure that this research is conducted safely and securely.”

That’s why the Federal Select Agent Regulations were enacted in 2002 to oversee the possession, transfer, and use of bacteria, viruses, fungi, or toxins that have the potential to threaten public and agricultural health.

In order to better adapt policies to the current landscape, the National Security Council and Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) sent a joint memo in August 2014 to federal departments and agencies involved in life-sciences research, urging them to take immediate and longer-term steps to address the underlying causes of recent laboratory incidents and strengthen overall biosafety and biosecurity in the United States.

Among a number of robust steps, the memo directed the formation of an interagency group to comprehensively review the impact that the current select agent regulations have on science, technology, and national security.

To ensure that this review benefits from diverse perspectives and the broadest possible input, OSTP is holding a series of stakeholder listening sessions, the first of which was held on February 17, 2015, to ensure that members of the scientific, regulatory, and security communities, as well as interested citizens, have an opportunity to provide direct feedback on this important issue.

In addition, today OSTP issued a Request for Information to solicit feedback from the broader public and expert community.

Anyone can submit comments through this request for information. The comment period will close on March 30, 2015.

Article courtesy of OSTP’s May Chu, Assistant Director for Public Health at OSTP, Dylan George, Senior Policy Advisor for Biological Threat Defense at OSTP, and Kushal Seetharam is a Student Volunteer at OSTP. Adapted for context and format.

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