Scientists say AI virus secrecy must stop

25-08-2006 | |

Leading scientists have called for an end to AI virus secrecy through the establishment of a global consortium to share genetic data from bird flu cases, deemed vital for tracking mutations and developing a vaccine against a human pandemic.

A letter to science journal Nature, with more than 70 scientists and health officials as signatories, said the current level of collecting and sharing of data on the H5N1 avian influenza virus was “inadequate … given the magnitude of the threat.”

Data on avian flu outbreaks is usually either restricted by governments or kept private by a small network of researchers, a report published online in the journal Nature said. The report said many scientists and organizations are also hoarding data so that they can be the first to publish in academic journals.

“We propose to expand and complement existing efforts with the creation of a global consortium – the Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Data (GISAID) – that would foster international sharing of avian influenza isolates and data,” wrote the scientists, who include six Nobel laureates.

“The full support of the international scientific community is urgently needed to understand better the spread and evolution of the virus, and the determinants of its transmissibility and pathogenicity in humans,” they said. “This in turn demands that scientists … have full access to comprehensive genetic-sequence, clinical and epidemiological data from both animal and human virus isolates.”

Researchers taking part in the consortium would agree to share their sequence data, analyze the findings jointly and publish the results collaboratively, they said.

Data would be deposited in the three publicly available databases participating in the International Sequence Database Collaboration (EMBL, DDBJ and GenBank) as soon as possible after analysis and validation, with a maximum delay of six months.

Several countries and international agencies have recently taken steps to improve sharing of influenza data, following the initiative of leading veterinary virologists in the field of avian influenza.

While the World Health Organisation is not directly involved, a spokesman said the organisation fully supports the concept proposed.

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