Global Catastrophic Biological Risks


Preventing global catastrophic biological risks (GCBRS)

Challenge

The risk of a catastrophic biological event is growing due to rapid advances in technology, increased global capability to create and engineer pathogens that could cause a pandemic, and the potential for interest in biological weapons by powerful actors, including states and terrorist groups.

Action

Make the case for governments, funders, researchers, and investors to prioritize GCBRs; develop innovative solutions for preventing, detecting, and mitigating global catastrophic biological events; and bolster efforts to prevent the development and use of biological weapons.

Results

Greater awareness of GCBRs among security and public health leaders; commitments and actions by policymakers and practitioners; and a stronger international norms against the development and use of biological weapons.

Global Biological Catastrophic Risks (GCBRs) are biological risks of unprecedented scale that have the potential to cause such significant damage to human civilization that they undermine its long-term potential.  Uncontrolled, the impact of a global biological catastrophic event would cause tremendous loss of life; societal instability; prolonged damage to governments and economies, damage to international relationships; and would threaten global security.

GCBRs are increasing for several reasons. First, rapid advances in technology are making it easier to manipulate biological organisms and to create and engineer pathogens and other biological agents. These developments are coupled with potential state and non-state interest in biological weapons. In parallel, the legitimate global bioscience research enterprise continues to conduct experiments involving the creation and enhancement of pathogens with pandemic potential. Finally, laboratory accidents and errors demonstrate the need to proactively identify risks and guard against accidental release.

The risks are further exacerbated by global travel and trade, lack of pandemic preparedness capability, and dependence on a suite of interconnected essential services—power, water, food, health care, telecommunications and the global financial system—that are vulnerable to devastating disruptions.

Unfortunately, the drivers of GCBRs and their potential consequences are not well understood or prioritized by policymakers. In recent years, national governments and the international community have proven unprepared to combat naturally emerging regional epidemics. They are even less prepared for potential future global pandemics, including deliberate or accidental high-consequence biological events that could be unprecedented in scale. GCBRs pose a daunting challenge, and meaningful reduction of these risks will require concerted efforts by governments, international organizations, civil society and the private sector.

NTI’s actions to reduce GCBRs consist of three primary lines of effort:

1. Building a stronger case for decision-makers to prioritize action to counter GCBRs — among governments, international organizations, and global leaders in security, public health, and disaster response.

  • NTI is engaging in GCBR-focused tabletop exercises to raise awareness among global decision-makers and to develop concrete actions for preventing, detecting and responding to global catastrophic biological risks.
  • NTI has recommended more coordinated international operational response capability and disease information sharing for high consequence biological events, including GCBRs.
  • NTI is releasing a Global Health Security Index to establish benchmarks of national preparedness, including for GCBRs, across 195 countries, in partnership with the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and with the research power of the Economist Intelligence Unit.

2. Establishing new forums focused on p

reventing the development and use of biological weapons by powerful actors and strengthening the Biological Weapons Convention.

  • NTI is engaging international partners to strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention, including improving its financial stability and supporting substantive measures to bolster the norm against bioweapons development and use.
  • NTI is conducting a multi-year initiative focused on reducing GCBRs and bioweapons risks posed by powerful actors, including states and terrorists. This effort will include hosting international dialogues and conducting focused research on risk drivers and innovative solutions.
  • NTI is partnering with public and private sector leaders to catalyze biosecurity actions and technical approaches to reduce risks associated with advances in technology and the global bioscience research enterprise, through our Biosecurity Innovation and Risk Reduction Initiative.

3. Developing innovative solutions for early detection and rapid response to GCBRs.

  • NTI is partnering with the Center for Global Development to research and develop proposed operational response capabilities that could effectively contain large-scale pandemics and GCBRs.
  • NTI is developing a pilot project to support a rapid disease detection framework, including examining methods for real-time identification of emerging infectious diseases, high consequence pathogens of unknown origin, and potentially engineered agents that pose global catastrophic risks.
  • NTI is exploring approaches that could reshape the fragmented ecosystem for medical countermeasure (MCM) development and further incentivize industry-government partnerships to speed MCM development, distribution and dispensing during a high-consequence event.

Activity

2021


NTI | bio Workshop Advances Efforts to Strengthen International Capabilities to Investigate High-Consequence Biological Events of Unknown Origin

News

NTI | bio Workshop Advances Efforts to Strengthen International Capabilities to Investigate High-Consequence Biological Events of Unknown Origin

NTI | bio hosted a workshop to explore the prospect of a new, internationally credible “Joint Assessment Mechanism” to rapidly investigate high-consequence biological events of unknown origin.

2021


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2018


NTI Launches NTI | bio Advisory Group

News

NTI Launches NTI | bio Advisory Group

NTI’s recently expanded Global Biological Policy and Programs (NTI | bio) is launching a high-level advisory group this week.

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