Sen. Rand Paul proposes legislation to create security board to review and approve funding for ‘high-risk life sciences research’

United States Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) announced Wednesday the Risky Research Review Act, which would establish an independent security board to review and approve “high-risk life sciences research” projects seeking federal funding.

The first-of-its-kind proposal would create a Life Sciences Research Security Board within the executive branch responsible for conducting “oversight over life sciences research funding across the federal government to protect public health, safety, and national security.”

‘If we had this bill in place ten years ago, we could have prevented the COVID pandemic.’

The act defines “high-risk life sciences research” as any research that has a potential dual-use nature or could pose a threat to public health, including “gain of function research, research involving genetic modification or synthetic creation of a potential pandemic pathogen, and activities involving the collection or surveillance of potential pandemic pathogens.”

Grant applicants seeking to conduct research projects that fall into this category would only be able to receive federal funding with approval from the majority of the security board members.

The nine-member board, appointed by the president with Senate approval, would include one executive director, five non-governmental scientists, and two national security experts. The members would serve up to two four-year terms and must not be, or have been within the past three years, a federal employee. Under the proposed act, the security board would be expected to submit annual reports to Congress and online.

On Thursday morning, the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs held an oversight hearing on “taxpayer funded high-risk virus research.”

Senators listened to testimony from Dr. Gerald Parker, the associate dean for Global One Health at the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences; Dr. Carrie Wolinetz, the senior principal and chair at Lewis-Burke Associates health and bioscience innovation practice group and a former senior adviser with the National Institutes of Health; Dr. Robert Redfield, a former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and Dr. Kevin Esvelt, associate professor at MIT Media Lab.

During opening statements at Thursday morning’s hearing, Senator Gary Peters (D-Mich.) seemed to express that he may not be opposed to legislation similar to the bill proposed by Paul.

“Our expert witnesses raised to the need for robust oversight over a wide range of high-risk life sciences research both here in the United States and abroad,” Peters stated. “Life science research can be critical to protecting public health and our national security. It helps up develop vaccines and improve our diagnostic tests and sharpen our understanding of potential biological threats.”

“This research can be incredibly dangerous. It puts scientists in contact with harmful pathogens, and they sometimes do not get the necessary training on how to handle them properly,” Peters added. “If equipment fails or researchers make an innocent mistake, it can carry serious health risks for the broader public.”

During his opening remarks, Paul stated, “Over the last four years, compelling evidence has emerged supporting the lab origin of the pandemic and unraveling a web of deception: the vast COVID cover-up.”

“So what has been done since the discovery that our government is funding dangerous virus research overseas with little or no oversight? The answer is stark and chilling: virtually nothing,” Paul remarked. “In this dystopian universe we find ourselves in, it is our duty to challenge the status quo — to shine a light on the darkest corners of government operations, and to protect the freedoms and lives of the people we serve.”

Wolinetz defended the federal government’s oversight of risky pathogen research.

“Collectively, while this policy framework may be imperfect and should continue to evolve with the science and current threat landscape, it arguably represents the most rigorous oversight of pathogen research in the world,” Wolinetz claimed. “If we make it too hard for scientists to conduct and communicate the findings of experiments that expand our knowledge of pathogens, we will be less prepared for the next emerging biological threat.”

The committee issued a press release announcing the Risky Research Review Act, noting that the funding of such research currently “lack[s] sufficient government oversight, allowing American taxpayer dollars to be spent without appropriate checks.”

Redfield called the proposed act “a very important bill” that would “ensure national security is prioritized when making U.S. life science funding decisions.” He called for a moratorium on gain-of-function research.

“If we had this bill in place ten years ago, we could have prevented the COVID pandemic,” Redfield added.

Richard Ebright, the Board of Governors Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Rutgers University and laboratory director at the university’s Waksman Institute of Microbiology, also voiced support for the proposed legislation.

“The gaps in current U.S. oversight of research on potential pandemic pathogens place the U.S. at risk of research-related pandemics, with medical, economic, and national security impacts as disruptive and damaging as, or even more disruptive and damaging than, those of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Ebright stated. “Addressing the gaps in oversight is essential and urgent.”

Ebright wrote in a post on X Thursday, “The US has no–zero–regulations with force of law for biosafety or biorisk management of research with any pathogen other than smallpox virus, apart from a requirement to have a biosafety plan, the content of which is left to the discretion of the institution.”

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