Responsible life sciences research for global health security
Life science research and biotechnology, including genetic engineering, synthetic biology, genomics and proteomics have led to remarkable improvements in health. Developments in the field of drugs, vaccines and diagnostics have resulted in significant advances in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of diseases. These advances, however, also present new challenges in the field of bioethics and of equitable access to life sciences research and have been the subject of several studies. The project on Responsible life sciences for global health security examines the parallel implications for global health security.
Results published from a number of life sciences research experiments have drawn considerable attention due to their unexpected findings, indicating unforeseen consequences and raising concerns about the accidental or possible misuse of this knowledge. Subsequently, several measures have been suggested to manage problematic issues surrounding life sciences research (including self-governance, codes of conduct, legislation and regulation). A fine balance must be struck between furthering the public health benefits of life sciences research and development and mitigating its potential risks—a balance that facilitates the development and emergence of new techniques and knowledge while providing all actors involved in life sciences research guidance on how to manage the associated risks. A working paper mapping the different issues was published in 2005 and provides some background information (see Publications).
In 2006, a scientific working group met in Geneva to discuss the risk and opportunities of life sciences research for global health security (see Publications). The scientific working group recognized that these issues are complex and challenging for public health, and paid special attention to the needs and vulnerabilities of developing countries. It underlined the need for the global community to respond to these challenges in a manner that is sustained and comprehensive. The scientific working group identified five priority areas for which action is needed.
In 2010, a guidance document provided a biorisk management framework upon which Member States and institutions can consider drawing elements (see Publications). This integrated framework rests on three pillars supporting public health: research excellence; ethics and biosafety and laboratory biosecurity. This project has been developed as part of the implementation of the World Health Assembly resolution WHA55.16 of 18 May 2002.