Research Rules for Viruses with ‘Enhanced Pandemic Potential’ Exclude Avian Flu, COVID-19

The Biden administration’s research rules for viruses with “enhanced pandemic potential” exclude the avian influenza and SARS-CoV-2 viruses.

Research to be governed includes anything involving the creation or alteration of a pathogen of pandemic potential (PPP).

“This Policy addresses oversight of research on biological agents and toxins that, when enhanced, have the potential to pose risks to public health, agriculture, food security, economic security, or national security,” reads the “United States Government Policy for Oversight of Dual Use Research of Concern and Pathogens with Enhanced Pandemic Potential” guidelines.

As of May 2024, the virus behind COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, is not considered a PP because of the “development of vaccines and other effective medical countermeasures, as well as the rise of population immunity,” implementation guidance for the policy reads. “If SARS-CoV-2, regardless of lineage, were genetically modified to enhance transmissibility, virulence, and disrupt effectiveness of pre-existing immunity in humans, it could still be anticipated to result in a PEPP.”

A PEPP is a pathogen with enhanced pathogen potential.

Ebola is also listed as a non-PPP, although the implementation guide notes that it may become a PEPP if it is modified.

“Based on historical experience with the nature and extent of spread and on the potential for improved control measures, the wild-type Ebola virus is not considered a PPP,” the guide states. “[H]owever, significant modification to the virus, particularly enhancing transmissibility or disrupting the effectiveness of pre-existing immunity, may result in an Ebolavirus with enhanced pandemic potential, i.e., a PEPP.”

Chinese scientists recently created a mutated version of the Ebola virus, according to a report from The Daily Mail.

Dr. Richard Ebright, a chemical biologist at Rutgers University, told the outlet that a lab leak would lead to pandemic-level infections, although he noted that it is important to “verify that the novel chimeric virus does not infect and replicate in human cells, and does not pose risk of infectivity, transmissibility, and pathogenicity in humans, before proceeding with studies at biosafety level 2.”

Ebright called the updated policy “nonsensical.”

“The definition of ‘potential pandemic pathogen’ provided in the implementation guidance for the new policy is different from the definition in the current policy, is different from the definitions in all previous policy deliberations, and, basically, is nonsensical,” he wrote on X.

“The implementation guidance for the new policy states, nonsensically, that SARS-CoV-2–a pathogen that currently is causing a pandemic–does not meet the definition of ‘potential pandemic pathogen,'” Ebright continued, adding that the H5N1 avian influenza virus, which he said is “currently infecting cattle in multiple states and being monitored for pandemic potential,” also does not meet the definition of a PPP.

The updated policy will take effect on May 6, 2025.