“Protect Our Future”: a new non-governmental organization dedicated to preventing lab-generated pandemics
For decades, scientists have been conducting research that enhances potential pandemic pathogens. This research–originally called “gain-of-function research of concern,” and more recently called “enhanced potential pandemic pathogens research”–creates new, more dangerous pathogens that can cause pandemics if they escape from a lab. For example, a lethal virus that doesn’t transmit between humans can be engineered to do so, or a virus that is not lethal can be engineered to be lethal.
Lab-generated pandemics can arise as the result of either accidental releases or deliberate releases of pandemic pathogens. Both accidental lab releases and deliberate lab releases have occurred multiple times in the last five decades. But the stakes now are higher than ever before, due to the rapidly increasing power and rapidly decreasing cost of advanced biotechnology. We now face the threat of lab-generated pandemics as deadly as, or more deadly than, COVID-19, including lab-generated pandemics that could threaten the survival of the human species. Remarkably, despite the major risks to the public, this research is subject to almost no national or international oversight. Moreover, to date, the public largely has been unaware of, and excluded from, discussion of this threat.
To combat this threat, we have established Protect Our Future (www.biosafetynow.org), a new non‑governmental organization that will advocate for reducing numbers of high-level biocontainment laboratories and for strengthening biosafety, biosecurity, and biorisk management for research on pathogens. We also aim to inform and empower the general public to participate in discussion and decisions.
Our Mission is to demand national- and international-level regulations and oversight to reduce the risks to the public posed by research on pathogens.
Our Vision is a future free of lab-generated pandemics, a future free of reckless research on enhanced potential pandemic pathogens, and a future where public trust in science is restored.
Our Leadership Team comprises persons with expertise and experience in biomedicine, mathematics, public health, public policy, law, and public advocacy, all of whom agree that research that creates potential pandemic pathogens more dangerous than those in nature poses existential risks to the public and provides few, if any, benefits for science, medicine, public health, or national security.
contact: [email protected]
Amir Attaran, Ph.D., LL.B., is Professor at the Faculty of Law and the School of Epidemiology and Public Health at the University of Ottawa, Canada. He is both a lawyer and a biologist. His research explores social and policy determinants of health in infections and non-infectious disease and constitutional, administrative, and environmental law. He was a founding member of the Cambridge Working Group, which was founded in 2014 to advocate for strengthened oversight of gain-of-function research, and which helped bring about the US pause in federal funding of selected gain-of-function research in 2014-2016.
Colin D. Butler, Ph.D., is Honorary Professor at the College of Health and Medicine at the Australian National University. He has longstanding interests in One Health policy, public health, international development, the environment, and social justice.
Malcolm R. Dando, Ph.D., is Leverhulme Emeritus Fellow at the Department of Peace Studies of the University of Bradford, United Kingdom. He has worked for three decades on arms control, first concentrating on nuclear arms control and then increasingly on biological and chemical weapons arms control, and biosecurity.
Richard H. Ebright, Ph.D. (co-founder), is Board of Governors Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Rutgers University, USA, and Laboratory Director at the Waksman Institute of Microbiology. He conducts research on the mechanism of bacterial RNA synthesis and on the development of new antibacterial therapeutic agents. He has been a member of the Working Group on Pathogen Security of NJ, the Controlling Dangerous Pathogens Project of the Center for International Security Studies, and the Biosecurity Advisory Board of the Center for Civilian Biodefense. He was a founding member of the Cambridge Working Group, which was founded in 2014 to advocate for strengthened oversight of gain-of-function research, and which helped brig about the US pause in federal funding of selected gain-of-function research in 2014-2016.
David N. Fisman, Ph.D., M.P.H., is Professor of Epidemiology at the University of Toronto, Canada and a Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences and the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. He is a physician-epidemiologist with research interests at the intersection of applied epidemiology, mathematical modeling, and applied health economics. He was a founding member of the Cambridge Working Group, which was founded in 2014 to advocate for strengthened oversight of gain-of-function research, and which helped brig about the US pause in federal funding of selected gain-of-function research in 2014-2016.
Peter Hale, is the founder and Executive Director of the Foundation for Vaccine Research in Washington, DC, USA. The Foundation for Vaccine Research advocates for vaccine discovery and development and vaccine use and was among the first non-governmental organizations in the US to call for a moratorium on gain-of-function research of concern. He was a founding member of the Cambridge Working Group, which was founded in 2014 to advocate for strengthened oversight of gain-of-function research, and which helped bring about the US pause in federal funding of selected gain-of-function research in 2014-2016.
Edward Hammond, M.A., M.S., is a researcher active on policy issues related to laboratory biosafety, biodiversity, infectious disease, biodiversity, and intellectual property. He has been a member of United Nations expert groups on synthetic biology, digital sequence information, and agricultural genetic resources, has actively participated in implementation of the WHO Framework on Pandemic Influenza Preparedness, and was the director of the Sunshine Project, which investigated policies and practices of US Institutional Biosafety Committees. He was a founding member of the Cambridge Working Group, which was founded in 2014 to advocate for strengthened oversight of gain-of-function research, and which helped bring about the US pause in federal funding of selected gain-of-function research in 2014-2016.
Elisa D. Harris, M. Phil., is Non-Resident Senior Researcher at the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland, USA, where her research focuses on biosecurity issues, including health security and cooperative approaches to controlling highly dangerous pathogens. From 1993 to 2001, she was Director for Nonproliferation and Export Controls on the White House National Security Council staff, where she had primary responsibility for coordinating U.S. policy on biological, chemical, and missile proliferation issues. She has held research positions in the Nonproliferation Program at the Stimson Center, the Foreign Policy Studies program at the Brookings Institution, the Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University, and the Royal United Services Institute for Defense Studies in London. She has been a consultant to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, where she led a project on dual-use technologies in the nuclear, cyber and biotechnology fields, and a staff consultant to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs. She is a former SSRC‑MacArthur Foundation Fellow in International Peace and Security Studies.
Laura H. Kahn, M.D., M.P.H., M.P.P., is a physician, author, educator, and co-founder of the One Health Initiative. For almost 20 years, she was Research Scholar at the Program on Science and Global Security at the Princeton University School of Public and International Affairs, USA. She is the author of several books including Who’s in Charge? Leadership During Epidemics, Bioterror Attacks, and Other Public Health Crises. She is currently finishing a book examining coronaviruses using a One Health framework.
Justin B. Kinney, Ph.D. (co-founder), is Associate Professor in the Simons Center for Quantitative Biology at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, USA. He studies mechanisms of gene regulation using experimental, computational, and mathematical approaches. He is concerned that lab-generated pandemics pose a major risk to public health, and that these risks are not recognized by most scientists and policy makers.
Lynn C. Klotz, Ph.D., is Senior Science Fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, USA, where he studies the risks posed by biological and chemical weapons. From 2013 to 2015, he served as Research Scholar and Adjunct Professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, USA, where he and his colleague Ed Sylvester published articles on biological-weapons risks for lay audiences.
Yanna Lambrinidou, Ph.D., is an affiliate faculty member in the Department of Science, Technology, and Society at Virginia Tech, USA. Her interests focus on the intersection of environmental health, community knowledge, and technical expertise. Her interest in high-risk pathogens research was triggered in March 2020 when she noticed unsupported, unsound, and seemingly coordinated reports in scientific journals and the media that the possibility of a research-related origin for COVID-19 was a “conspiracy theory.”
Milton Leitenberg is Senior Research Associate at the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland, USA. He was trained in biochemistry and, since 1966, has worked at research institutes in Sweden and the US on weapons-of-mass-destruction arms control, including nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons.
Raina MacIntyre, Ph.D., MBBS, M. App. Epi., is Professor of Global Biosecurity and Head of the Biosecurity Program at the Kirby Institute, UNSW, Australia. She leads research programs in the control and prevention of epidemics, pandemics, bioterrorism, and emerging infections. She is a graduate of Australia’s field epidemiology training program and has extensive field experience in outbreak investigation and control.
Bryce Nickels, Ph.D. (co-founder), is Professor of Genetics at Rutgers University, USA, and Laboratory Director at the Waksman Institute of Microbiology. He conducts research on mechanisms of gene regulation using genetics, biochemistry, and molecular biology. Together with Richard H. Ebright and Justin Kinney, he co-founded Protect Our Future because he was concerned that the public did not have a voice in decisions about research with potential pandemic pathogens.
Kathryn Nixdorff, Ph.D., is Professor Emerita in Microbiology and Genetics at Darmstadt University of Technology, Germany. Her research focuses on the regulation of interactions of microorganisms with the immune system and on biological weapons disarmament issues, particularly the roles of scientific and technological developments.
Dana Parish is a chart-topping Sony/ATV songwriter and co-author of the book CHRONIC, which discussed relationships between infectious diseases, from Lyme to COVID-19, and long-term autoimmune and neurologic illnesses. She serves on the advisory board of the Bay Area Lyme Foundation.
Nariyoshi Shinomiya, Ph.D., is President of the National Defense Medical College, Japan. His specialty includes microbiology and immunology, molecular oncology, and bioethics.
Harish Seshadri, Ph.D., is Professor of Mathematics at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, India. He specializes in differential geometry. The devastating Delta COVID-19 wave in India during the summer of 2020 sparked his interest in the question of origins of COVID-19, high-risk virological research, and biosafety oversight.