16 Jan 2015 4:00pm - 6:00pm SG1, Alison Richard Building


The Centre for the Study of Existential Risk is pleased to announce a monthly seminar series beginning in January 2015.

The January seminar will be given by Professor Marc Lipsitch (Harvard):

Risks and benefits of gain-of-function experiments in potentially pandemic pathogens. How should we evaluate them, and what alternatives exist?

Professor Derek Smith, Professor of Infectious Disease Informatics at Cambridge, will give a response. The seminar will be followed by a drinks reception.

The event is free and open to everyone but online registration is required. Please book your place by clicking on the online registration link on this page.

Abstract: “A growing trend in experimental virology has been the modification of influenza viruses that are antigenically novel to, and virulent in humans, such that these variant viruses are readily transmissible in mammals, including ferrets which are thought to be the best animal model for influenza infection. Novel, contagious, virulent viruses are potential pandemic pathogens in that their accidental or malevolent release into the human population could cause a pandemic. This talk will describe the purported benefits of such studies, arguing that these are overstated; estimate the magnitude of the risk they create, argue for the superiority of alternative scientific approaches on both safety and scientific grounds, and propose an ethical framework in which such experiments should be evaluated. The talk will also explore recent developments following the pause in funding for this research announced by the United States Government in October, and steps towards the risk-benefit analysis called for by the announcement”

Professor Lipsitch is a professor of epidemiology and the Director of the Centre for Communicable Disease Dynamics at Harvard University. He is one of the founders of the Cambridge Working group, which calls for a “quantitative, objective and credible assessment of the risks, potential benefits, and opportunities for risk mitigation” of gain of function experiments in potentially pandemic pathogen strains.

For more on the scientific debate, see “Gain-of-function experiments: time for a real debate”.


For administrative enquiries please contact Michelle Maciejewska.


Tel: +44 1223 766886
Email enquiries@crassh.cam.ac.uk