BioWorld International Correspondent

LONDON - The UK's three leading bioscience agencies agreed to a common policy to prevent research they fund from being misused by bioterrorists.

The Medical Research Council (MRC), the Wellcome Trust and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) joined forces to examine how to identify and assess risks of misuse at the initial grant application stage and heighten awareness of the issue among the scientific community. As a result, each agency is making common changes to policy and procedures, and said they will work together on a code of conduct for scientists and to build international cooperation to prevent the misuse of research.

The three bodies also hope that by adopting a rigorous process of self-governance they can avoid any government-imposed regulation.

Colin Blakemore, CEO of the MRC, acknowledged that taken alone the measures could not deter a committed terrorist, but said, "This is a positive step by the research community to raise awareness and reduce risks."

The aim is to have a common framework for managing the risks of research being misused in the development of bioweapons while ensuring the benefits of research are realized.

"We hope the policies we have adopted both reassure the public and encourage the scientific community to remain vigilant to the risks of misuse," said Mark Walport, director of the Wellcome Trust.

The BBSRC, MRC and Wellcome Trust have agreed to changes on four points: introducing a question on grant applications for applicants to consider if the research could be misused, telling referees to consider potential for misuse when assessing applications, developing a process for handling cases in which concerns are raised and ensuring the institutions at which the research is carried out make specific reference to the risks of misuse in good practice guidelines.

In addition to those changes, the organizations made a plea that research should continue to be published openly in peer-review journals, and that genomic data, including the sequences of pathogens, should continue to be held in public domain databases.

They also insisted there should be no restrictions on scientists from overseas coming to work in UK laboratories.

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