Balancing the promise of biotechnology with preventing the biological weapons threat
Whether naturally occurring or manmade, biological threats pose a grave risk to our increasingly interconnected world. The emergence of new diseases and the natural evolution of pathogens are constantly changing the nature of biological risks. Over the past 25 years, the diffusion of technical expertise coupled with the biotechnology revolution has also dramatically increased the threat posed by bioterrorism. Further, many previously tedious and labor-intensive processes have been simplified or automated, decreasing the resource and financial requirements for illicit biological weapons activities. All of these factors taken together create an urgent need to strengthen infectious disease surveillance as well as improve bio-security and safety globally.
The dual-use nature of biological research equipment and processes raises proliferation concerns—in order to develop vaccines and treatments, life scientists must use many of the same methods and materials that could be used to produce biological weapons. As the biotechnology industry continues to grow and globalize, increasingly powerful technologies are becoming more widely available and offered at lower costs, and may increase the risks of accidents involving high-risk pathogens. Efforts to strengthen biosecurity and reduce the threat posed by biological weapons thus require ingenuity and effective leadership.
Recognizing that governments have most of the resources and authority in the large-scale work of threat reduction, NTI emphasizes leverage. We use our voice to raise awareness, advocate solutions, and foster new thinking about these problems. Because the response of a health system in one country could have a direct and immediate impact on a neighboring country or continent, and recognizing the importance of cross-border communication and training, NTI has helped create both regional and global organizations focused on disease surveillance—a critical step for rapid detection and response. NTI is also a founding member of the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) Consortium, an international coalition of non-government stakeholders working together with governments focused on accelerating progress in global health security.