Fearing a slowdown in what they described as the "astonishing pace" of advances, an international group of 13 researchers met in San Francisco last spring at the Positive Strand RNA Virus symposium and drafted a letter urging the U.S. government not to add the coronavirus that causes SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) to the list of select agents. They were concerned that drug and vaccine development would be hurt if scientists in the United States were burdened with requirements that could stall international scientific collaboration.
"The huge success in the identification and characterization of coronavirus as the etiologic agent of SARS required unprecedented global cooperation," says Kathryn V. Holmes, a coronavirus expert at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. "If select-agent status is given to this virus, it will restrict the action of U.S. scientists with others and delay the free and easy collaboration that has characterized this landmark research so far. Vaccine and drug therapy are coming very quickly now—we think it would be a bad time to inhibit research."
Officials at the U.S. federal agencies responsible for the select-agents list, including the CDC, have been discussing the possibility of adding the SARS coronavirus to the list; at this time, however, no final decision has been made, according to CDC spokesman Von Roebuck.
Illustration: Dan Page
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Reprinted from the HHMI Bulletin,
Winter 2005, pages 20–24.
©2005 Howard Hughes Medical Institute