Washington Editor

WASHINGTON - The potential misuse of science to develop or release destructive weapons has prompted two research organizations to form a global council charged with establishing ways of improving public safety through use of responsible, ethical and sound business practices.

Essentially, organizers want private sector biotechnology and pharmaceutical firms to stand behind a unified, international effort to deal with biological threats.

The project, referred to as the International Council for the Life Sciences Industries, is the brainchild of the Chemical and Biological Arms Control Institute (CBACI) and the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), both of Washington.

On Thursday, executives from both groups met with representatives from the government, media and other nonprofit organizations to begin hashing out a plan to pull together the council.

Terence Taylor, IISS president and executive director, told BioWorld Today the planners are reaching out to private firms to gain support in shaping the organization and its charter. Taylor and others involved believe any international effort to deal with biological threats to public safety and security that does not incorporate the private industry will lack effectiveness and ultimately will fail.

The group's charter is supposed to be a mechanism for private firms to manage safety and security issues and to open the lines of communication with other stakeholders, such as the government. Organizers are sensitive to the idea of making sure the charter reflects the real-life relationships among companies, universities, governments and trade organizations.

One of the hurdles in creating an interest among private-sector companies seems to be convincing them that security is necessary and that certain pathogens, drug delivery methods or technologies can have dual or unintended uses. That also could apply to potential industrial accidents.

"We are not asking companies to do security checks, but to protect [themselves] they have to become more active and proactive," said Michael Moodie, co-founder and president of CBACI. "There is that sort of thinking that, by and large, the life sciences don't have to be engaged in security. Sometimes the mentality is - we'll do it when we have to, but let us get on with our other issues."

According to CBACI and IISS, governments are struggling with the need for national and international regulations, but the speed of development in the industry outpaces government legal and regulatory action.

As part of the charter, Moodie said the group should consider issues like bioethics, how to best handle and disseminate information and how to ensure that national and international rules and regulations are appropriately incorporated.

Later this year, CBACI and IISS-U.S. are planning regional conferences in Asia, Europe and North America to present and discuss the charter, ensuring that the council is shaped by regional industry perspectives.

The Asia conference is scheduled in Singapore April 26-28, which will be followed by the conference in Europe in July and the conference in North America in December.

Members of the group's senior advisory council include William Haseltine, president and CEO of Rockville, Md.-based Human Genome Sciences Inc.; Una Ryan, president and CEO of Needham, Mass.-based Avant Immunotherapeutics Inc.; Paul Fischer, president and CEO of Gaithersburg, Md.-based GenVec Inc.; and Robert Erwin, chairman of Vacaville, Calif.-based Large Scale Biology Corp.

The IISS, a private, not-for-profit membership organization, studies military strategy, arms control, regional security and conflict resolution. Meanwhile, the CBACI is a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan group with a special interest in elimination of chemical and biological weapons.

Anyone interested in additional information should contact Jennifer Runyon at CBACI & IISS-U.S., 1747 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, 7th Floor, Washington DC, 20006, or e-mail her at jrunyon@cbaci.org