Policy ForumBiosafety and Biosecurity

Risk-based reboot for global lab biosafety

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Science  20 Apr 2018:
Vol. 360, Issue 6386, pp. 260-262
DOI: 10.1126/science.aar2231

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  • Planned reboot for global laboratory biosafety really risk-based?
    • Thomas Binz, PhD, Federal Office of Public Health, Switzerland
    • Other Contributors:
      • Astrid Smola, PhD, Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, Germany

    In their article of 20 April 2018, Kojima et al. propose to revise the World Health Organization (WHO) Laboratory Biosafety Manual (LBM). According to the proposition, biosafety concepts should become more flexible in reducing the focus on risk groups and biosafety levels. In the revised LBM, as the key element, the authors propose that risk-mitigation measures should be selected using a risk- and evidence-based approach. In particular, the likelihood of exposure to a pathogen in a laboratory setting should be determined. To assess this risk, the authors cite different criteria such as route(s) of infection, pathogenicity, infectious dose and others. They propose that ‘core requirements’ should be sufficient for most laboratory procedures, omitting to a large extent therefore the graduated approach of biosafety levels 1 to 4 of the present manual. Only for “heightened” risks, biological safety cabinets or extra personal protective equipment should be used. The authors also emphasize that the current LBM has been broadly used and has encouraged countries to implement basic concepts of biological safety, thus underlining the global importance of the document.

    In fact, the present legislative landscape, particularly in Europe and North America, such as the “Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories (BMBL)” in the United States, the Canadian “Human Pathogens and Toxins Act (HPTA)” or the European Directives 2000/54/EC on biological agents at work and 2009...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.
  • Terrorism must be considered for biosafety

    Kazunobu Kojima et al. proposed a shift in focus to a risk-based, technology-neutral, and cost-effective approach to biosafety (1). At first it seems reasonable, but it is a big mistake. We have to prepare for unexpected terrorism. I have found why they have changed their minds (2). WHO reported “Terrorism has changed. Today weapons of mass destruction (WMD), horizontal as opposed to conventional hierarchical networks, and indiscriminate targeting are being faced. Thus multidisciplinary collaboration of state and non-state actors is needed.” It looks like they have given up against the attacks of terrorism. The cost-effective approach to biosafety is important, but the sufficient preparation is needed for terrorism.

    1. Kazunobu Kojima et al., Risk-based reboot for global lab biosafety, Science 20 Apr 2018: Vol. 360, Issue 6386, pp. 260-262
    2. Extended Biosafety Advisory Group (BAG) meeting report (WHO)

    Competing Interests: None declared.

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