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Mason biodefense head sees little reason to recreate horsepox in lab

March 15, 2018

Gregory Koblentz, George Mason University, horsepox, vaccination

Gregory Koblentz

In March 2017, a University of Alberta project, funded by Tonix Pharmaceuticals Inc., announced the reconstruction of the horsepox virus in a laboratory, with the intention of developing a new smallpox vaccine.

George Mason University professor Gregory Koblentz, director of Mason’s biodefense graduate program at the Schar School of Policy and Government, warns that this project is poorly justified, scientifically and commercially.

Besides, he said, there is a very small market for smallpox vaccine, but a very large potential for misuse.

The project is considered “dual use research of concern,” which is work performed for potential benefit but that also could be misused, often with disastrous or negative consequences.

“I find that the claimed benefits of using horsepox virus as a smallpox vaccine rest on a weak scientific foundation and an even weaker business case that the company can convert this project into a licensed medical countermeasure,” Koblentz writes in mSphere, the journal of the American Society for Microbiology.

“The combination of questionable benefits and known risks of this research raises serious questions about the propriety of a private company sponsoring such dual use research without appropriate oversight.”

Gregory Koblentz can be reached at 703-993-1266 or

For more information, contact Buzz McClain at 703-727-0230 or

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George Mason University is Virginia’s largest public research university. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason enrolls 36,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states. Mason has grown rapidly over the past half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity and commitment to accessibility.