H5N1: Timeline of Select Episodes and their Significance

In September 2011 researchers from the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, The Netherlands led by Ron Fouchier announced that they had successfully engineered a mutant form of influenza H5N1, “avian influenza,” that is transmissible by respiratory route between mammals (ferrets). Given that ferrets’ immune response to influenza is considered to be similar to the response in humans, the studies suggest that the engineered H5N1 is likely transmissible human-to-human as well. The researchers suggested that the transmissible flu they had created remained as lethal as the original strain on which their work had been carried out, a strain estimated to be fatal in ~30-60% of cases in humans. Several months later it became widely known that a second research group, led by University of Tokyo and University of Wisconsin professor Yoshihiro Kawaoka, similarly had engineered a mammal-to-mammal transmissible form of H5N1. The conduct of the work, the handling of its announcement, and the political turmoil set into motion by the prospect of its publication have raised serious questions about the limits of free inquiry and the regulation of research with dangerous organisms. It has also raised serious questions about the terms under which such research should be organized, justified, and critiqued. In the table that follows I provide a timeline of the key episodes in the unfolding of this event, with an explanation of how each episode is significant. I pay particular attention to how the story being told about the research and importance had changed, and how its political framing has led to a game of justification and counter justification in which the account of the science and how it should be interpreted has become formed by the polemics which have taken hold. Where possible the table provides links to the primary documents or presentations referenced as part of the timeline. I have also included a second table with a list of the primary individuals involved in this event, with a short introductory bio on each. The materials in this second table have been extracted from longer biographies available online. The material in this timeline was developed in close conversation with Roger Brent and Meg Stalcup, and with the assistance of Desmond Huynh, of the Center for Biological Futures.

By Gaymon Bennett:;xNLx;Center for Biological Futures, Basic Sciences, Hutchinson Center

2011-02-01 00:00:00

The CDC Inspects the Virology Facilities at Erasmus Medical Center, Rotterdam

2011-03-01 00:00:00

Fouchier Group Co-Authors on a Cross-Protective Immunity Publication

2011-08-16 00:00:00

Fouchier Group Publishes a Progress Report on Transmissibility Studies

2011-09-01 18:24:56

Fouchier Group Submits its Transmissibility Research for Publication

2011-09-11 03:59:09

Fouchier Gives Keynote Presentation at ESWI

2011-09-19 03:59:09

A Report on Fouchier’s Work is Published in Scientific American, Framing these Endeavors as Matters of Public Health

2011-09-26 03:59:09

New Scientist Publishes a Report on Fouchier's Work in Terms of the Ease of Intentionally Engineering an H5N1 Pandemic

2011-09-30 18:24:56

Fouchier Informs the NIH and Dutch Government of Research

2011-10-01 23:33:09

NIH Requests NSABB Review of Manuscripts

2011-10-01 23:34:09

NSABB Subcommittee Reviews Manuscriptes

2011-11-01 04:02:16

Full NSABB Meets to Formulate Final Recommendations Regarding the Publication of the Two Papers

Guided by the findings of the sub-committee, the full NSABB meets to formulate its recommendations concerning what should be done about the imminent publication of the two papers, which now have been accepted by Science and Nature. After significant deliberation NSABB members reach consensus about the need to restrict access to the full findings of the two studies. Several committee members will report that they are committed to the free circulation of research findings as a definitional characteristic of science, but that the dangers associated the methods and findings of this research were uniquely grave and warranted redaction. The NSABB’s recommendation cannot be enforced as they are only an advisory body. Their recommendation will thus require the cooperation of the editors of the publishing journals, Philip Campbell (Nature) and Bruce Alberts (Science). The NSABB makes its recommendations to the NIH/NIAID, who will release the recommendations on December 20 after having communicated with the researchers and the editors of the journals.

2011-11-21 04:02:16

Widely Read Reports on Fouchier's Work are published in New Scientist and ScienceInsider

2011-11-30 04:02:16

NSABB Makes its Recommendations

2011-11-30 04:02:16

The WHO Publishes a Document Contextualizing the H5N1 Research in Terms of the Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Program

2011-12-07 12:54:13

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton travels to Geneva to address the United Nations Biological Weapons Convention Review

2011-12-15 12:54:13

Laurie Garrett Publishes "The Bioterrorist Next-Door"

2011-12-15 12:54:13

Center for Biosecurity Publishes a Statement Repudiating the Creation a Transmissible Form of the H5N1 Virus

2011-12-20 12:54:13

The NIH Releases Press Statement Announcing the NSABB’s Recommendations

2011-12-20 12:54:13

Debate Ensues in Response to NSABB Recommendations

2011-12-30 12:54:13

NIH Leadership Publish an Op-ed Voicing Strong Support of H5N1 Research

2011-12-31 12:54:13

NSABB Recommendations are Accepted by Researchers

2012-01-05 12:54:13

Laurie Garrett Publishes a Contextualized Reading of Events Entitled "Flu Season"

2012-01-07 12:54:13

The New York Times Editorial Board Publishes an Opinion Piece Flatly Opposing the H5N1 Research

2012-01-12 12:54:13

Peter Palese Criticizes and Rejects the NSABB Recommendations

2012-01-19 12:54:13

Sciencexpress Publishes Two Pieces in its Policy Forum with the Most Systematic Criticisms and Justifications of the Research to Date

2012-01-19 12:59:13

Fouchier, Herfst and Osterhaus Publish a Systematic Justification of the Fouchier Group's Research

2012-01-20 12:54:13

Members of the Influenza Research Community Announce a Self-imposed Moratorium on their Research

2012-01-20 12:54:13

Fouchier is Interviewed by ScienceInsider in an Article Entitled “Flu Researcher Ron Fouchier: It’s a Pity it has Come to This.”

2012-01-25 12:54:13

Yoshihiro Kawaoka Publishes a Commentary in Nature Justifying his Research

2012-01-27 12:54:13

Fouchier Conducts Extended Interview with Dutch Television Qualifying the Danger of his Research

2012-01-31 12:54:13

NSABB Publishes a Further Explanation and Defense of their Position

2012-01-31 12:59:13

Robert Webster Publishes a Commentary Supporting the NSABB Position in mBIO

2012-02-01 12:54:13

The Los Angeles Times Reports that the National Security Council has Begun Drafting Regulations for Research on Deadly Viruses and Lethal Biological Toxins

2012-02-13 09:31:10

Debate Grows Regarding the Accuracy of WHO H5N1 Fatality Rates

2012-02-16 12:54:13

WHO Convenes a Meeting to Discuss the Engineered H5N1 Virus

2012-02-23 12:54:13

Peter Palese Argues in ScienceExpress that H5N1 Fatality Rates have been Greatly Overestimated by the WHO

2012-02-24 12:54:13

Michael Osterholm and Nicholas Kelly Defend the Scientific Rigor of the NSABB Recommendations in mBIo

2012-03-01 12:54:13

The American Society of Microbiology Organizes an Ad Hoc One Hour Session to Address Developments in the Unfolding Controversy Centered on the H5N1 Research

2012-03-01 12:54:13

Representative Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) Sends “Fact-finding Letter” Expressing Concern About the Incoherence in the US Position

2012-03-02 12:54:13

Cohen and Malakoff of ScienceInsider Ask Members of the NSABB to Respond to Request to Revisit Revised Manuscripts

2012-03-29 11:46:02

NSABB Convenes to Review Revised Versions of the Manuscripts

Enter story info here

2012-03-30 12:54:13

The United States Government Policy for Oversight of Life Sciences Dual Use Research of Concern is Released

Enter story info here

2012-04-12 09:52:50

Osterholm Publishes a Public Letter Reflecting on the Failings of the March 29-30 NSABB Meeting

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H5N1: Timeline of Select Episodes and their Significance

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