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Health Security, November 2017
This article examines the biosecurity and biodefense implications resulting from the recent creation of horsepox virus, a noncirculating (extinct) species of orthopoxvirus. Here we examine the technical aspects of the horsepox virus synthesis and conclude that orthopox synthesis experiments currently remain technically challenging—and will continue to be so, even once this work is published in the scientific literature. This limits potential misuse by some types of nefarious actors. We also examine the implications of one stated purpose for the recreation of horsepox virus: the development of a smallpox vaccine. If the development is successful, it could take advantage of US government incentives for the priority FDA review of medical countermeasures (MCMs) against biosecurity threats. However, if this case leads to the determination that this incentive is counterproductive for security, the newly created priority review voucher program should be more clearly defined or limited based on need. Limiting the program could have costs that require further consideration, however, as general incentives for biodefense medical countermeasure development are required for MCMs to be available. Finally, while the recreation of horsepox virus was not technically trivial, nor was it cell-free, this experiment was a de facto demonstration of already assumed scientific capabilities.