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WHO conducts open webinar to introduce global guidance framework for responsible use of lifesciences

The framework, issued in September 2022, is a landmark document that is the result of two years of concerted collaborative effort involving WHO staff and hundreds of international experts in the fields of lifescience research, biosafety and biosecurity

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The World Health Organization (WHO) Science Division organised an open webinar to introduce and discuss the new global guidance framework for the responsible use of lifesciences: mitigating biorisks and governing dual-use research.

The framework is a first-of-its-kind comprehensive global guidance document that is expected to shape national and international policies and approaches for mitigating biorisks and governing dual-use research. It has the power to safely unlock the great promise that lifesciences and related technologies hold for improving global health, WHO notified via a statement.

Reflecting the global and multi-stakeholder nature of the guidance document, the webinar too was led by a panel of international experts representing the voices of various stakeholders who will benefit from the framework. The panellists included the coordinating team from the WHO Science Division, the three facilitators of working groups who informed the framework’s development, and a representative from the WHO regional office for Africa, the statement said.

Further, according to the statement, the webinar began by panellists shedding light on the scope and importance of the framework; the collaborative process through which it was developed; the practical tools, case studies and checklists it offers; and how the different elements of the document can be applied by various stakeholders.

The discussion then focussed on the nine values and principles that anchor the approaches outlined in the framework, which policymakers are also encouraged to adopt when thinking about biorisk mitigation. While noting that global policymaking around biorisks will differ depending on social, cultural and political contexts, panellists highlighted that the framework’s values and principles can serve as a baseline and a unifying language for decision-making in these areas, the statement noted.

Panellists elaborated on how the tools and mechanisms described in the framework can be used for proactive biorisk management among all stakeholders, particularly researchers and research institutions throughout the research lifecycle, it added.

It then mentioned that panellists noted how there is stark general lack of awareness that lifescience research output could potentially be misused in ways that pose health and security risks to the public. They expounded on how the framework can be put into action through education, awareness-raising and engagement activities that create a feeling of shared ownership and responsibility among stakeholders, while being tailored to unique socio-economic contexts.

Finally, in discussing how WHO member states and regions may interpret and implement the framework, panellists highlighted the challenges and considerations for lifescience research in Lower and Middle Income Countries (LMICs) —for example, lack of funding, resources, governance and training around biosafety and biosecurity. They expressed a belief that the framework will be the key to establishing critical policies and fostering ethics and research integrity in these regions, the statement concluded.

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