Examination of Witnesses (Questions 173-179)|
31 MARCH 2008
Q173 Chairman: Good afternoon and could
I welcome everyone to the penultimate session of the Innovation,
Universities, Science and Skills Committee's sub-committee on
biosecurity in the UK research laboratories. I welcome very much
indeed our first panel of witnesses, Professor Chris Thorns, the
Science Director of the Veterinary Laboratories Agency, Dr John
Stephenson, the Director of Research and Development at the Health
Protection Agency, Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, the Chief Executive
of the Medical Research Council and Mr Steve Visscher, the interim
Chief Executive at the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research
Council. We are pleased to have you with us this afternoon. The
Callaghan inquiry recommended a unified regulatory framework for
work on dangerous pathogens. Do you all agree that that was the
right way forward?
Professor Thorns: The VLA and
myself do agree that this is a welcome development. The Veterinary
Laboratories Agency has a large number of laboratories both at
SAPO level and ACDP level and we welcome this change. We feel
that it removes any potential conflicts of interest that existed
up to now. We are, as I am sure many others are, aware of some
subtle differences between the two schemes in that both schemes
ensure total separation of the organism to the environment in
any possible way but of course with ACDP you are as much concerned
about separating the operator from the organism where as with
SAPO you are not quite so concerned because it does not cause
disease in humans. Nevertheless we feel it is a welcome change
and we look forward to working with the Health and Safety Executive
under a harmonised scheme.
Q174 Chairman: Chris, did you make
any representations for this sort of arrangement before Pirbright?
Professor Thorns: We were aware
of the separation, indeed some of my veterinary colleagues at
the VLA were SAPO inspectors seconded by Defra but I think as
an organisation VLA felt that the inspectors and indeed Defra
inspectors were under quite a lot of resource pressure at times.
Q175 Chairman: So the answer is no.
Professor Thorns: The answer is
Q176 Chairman: John, are you similarly
robust in your support of the Callaghan recommendations?
Dr Stephenson: Indeed so. I have
discussed this with my colleagues at Porton where most of our
Category 4 facilities are and we support it for three reasons.
Those of us who have worked in these facilities have found the
slight differences between the SAPO 4 regulations and the ACDP
4 regulations confusing sometimes and difficult to move from one
to the other. I think in terms of clarity from the workers that
will be welcomed. Secondly, recent history says that most of the
novel human pathogens are in fact zoonoses and it makes a lot
of sense therefore to merge the regulatory framework for animal
pathogens and human pathogens. Also we welcome the recommendation
that the regulatory authority is distanced from the authority
which is responsible for running those laboratories. I think that
will be a welcome move which we would strongly support.
Q177 Chairman: You are perfectly
confident that this unified framework to regulate animal and human
pathogens, as recommended by Callaghan, is the right way forward.
Dr Stephenson: In principle; I
have not seen the details of those recommendations.
Q178 Chairman: "In principle"
worries me because it means there must be something which is lurking
in the back of your brain which says there is a problem here.
Dr Stephenson: No, I only say
"in principle" because I have not seen the final details
of those recommendations. I can see no real reason why they should
Q179 Dr Gibson: When you talk about
pathogens, do you include prions in that as well? Do you just
lump them altogether?
Dr Stephenson: I would not lump
them altogether particularly in terms of the decontamination processes
because I think, as some of you know, prions are particularly
resistant to some of the chemical inactivants and are also resistant
to thermal inactivation which is our major mechanism of inactivating
conventional pathogens. I think special recommendations would
have to be madeand indeed are already in placecertainly
for handling human prions which are particularly resistant to
both chemical and thermal inactivation.