OFFLU, the OIE/FAO joint network of expertise on avian influenza,
will systematically make avian influenza virus sequences accessible
to the entire scientific community. With this gesture OFFLU reiterates
its call to the world's scientists, international organisations
and countries for a global sharing of virus strains and sequences.
Since its launch in April 2005, OFFLU has been mainly working
on promoting the key objectives “to exchange scientific data
and biological materials (including virus strains) within the network,
and to share such information with the wider scientific community”.
Under this new impetus, strains will be sent to the U.S. National
Institutes of Health for sequencing and deposited in full transparency
on the free-access database, GenBank.
On 14 March 2006, the Scientific Committee of OFFLU, made up of
the world's leading veterinarian experts on avian influenza, revised
its terms of reference to put new emphasis on the need for further
collection, characterization and exchange of avian influenza viruses,
and for the expansion of the genomic database for animal influenza
Critical to surveillance and control efforts
Sharing virus strains, samples and sequences is a critical part
of the global work on the surveillance and control of the highly
pathogenic H5N1 virus, and supports the preparation of human vaccines.
Avian influenza brings long-term implications for human health,
and therefore OFFLU works closely with the World Health Organization
Working Group on Influenza Research at the human-animal interface.
Virus strains can be considered as intellectual property and sharing
them can be seen as potentially hampering research progress and
scientific publication. However, OFFLU went forward on 16 February
2006 when Dr Ilaria Capua of the Italian Istituto Zooprofilattico
Sperimentale delle Venezie in Italy, and Chair of the Scientific
Committee of OFFLU, released sequence data of the H5N1 virus found
in Nigeria and Italy on GenBank. In the meantime, she urged 50
colleagues around the world to share their isolated H5N1 virus
Scientists of the FAO/OIE network repeated their conviction in
a letter published by the review Science a few weeks later. “We
will make available for genome nucleotide sequencing of H5N1 contemporary
isolates from several countries and relevant historical strains,” said
Ilaria Capua and fellow Drs Ian Brown, Michael Johnson, Dennis
Senne and David Swayne.
The stance taken by G8 leaders in Russia on global sharing of
virus samples further strengthens this daring initiative.
In its statement on the fight against infectious diseases, the
Group of Eight declared being “determined to achieve tangible
progress in improved international cooperation on the surveillance
and monitoring of infectious diseases, including better coordination
between the animal and human health communities, building laboratory
capacities, and full transparency by all nations in sharing, on
a timely basis, virus samples in accordance with national and international
regulations and conventions, and other relevant information about
the outbreaks of diseases.”
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