The Intercept made FOI requests to gather information about American lab accidents. Additionally, their article discusses the current lack of legislation to require commonsense biosafety strategy from researchers.
Unless they work with the most dangerous pathogens, biolabs don’t have to register with the U.S. government. As a result, there is little visibility into the biosafety of experiments carried out by private companies or foundations.
“Your favorite tech billionaire could, with their own money, do basically whatever the hell they want with any pathogen,” said Rocco Casagrande, managing director of Gryphon Scientific, a biosafety advisory firm that has advised NIH on biosafety standards. “They could take the measles virus and intentionally try to make it vaccine-resistant and more pathogenic in their garage. If they’re doing it for legitimate research purposes in their own minds, they can do so wildly, unsafely, and no one can stop them.”
“There are some significant holes,” said Filippa Lentzos, an expert on biosecurity and biological threats at King’s College London. Biosafety protocols are “not embedded in statutory law. It’s tied to funding.”
Between April 2013 and March 2014, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill reported five mouse escapes, including one of an animal that had been infected with SARS four days earlier. In a letter to NIH, a biosafety specialist argued that the frequency of escapes was due to the “complex research taking place at our institute” rather than a failure of training, noting that several teams at the university use a breed of transgenic mouse known for its unpredictable behavior.