Critics see only risks, no benefits in horsepox paper

26 January 2018  Vol 359, Issue 6374

In Depth
Critics see only risks, no benefits in horsepox paper
By Kai Kupferschmidt
Science26 Jan 2018 : 375-376 Restricted Access
Scientists say their labmade virus could make a new smallpox vaccine. Others call it a “mistake” and a “stunt.”
A highly controversial study in which researchers synthesized the horsepox virus from scratch was finally published in PLOS ONE on 19 January. The study stirred alarm when Science first reported about it in July 2017 because it might give would-be terrorists a recipe to construct smallpox virus, a major human scourge vanquished in 1980. And now that the paper is out, many scientists say it doesn’t answer the most pressing question: Why did they do it? The team claims its work, funded by Tonix, a pharmaceutical company headquartered in New York City, could lead to a safer, more effective vaccine against smallpox. But safe smallpox vaccines already exist, and critics say there is no market for a horsepox-based replacement.