The 2022 National Biodefense Strategy released today by the White House outlines an ambitious set of objectives for guarding against future pandemics and other biological threats. If the U.S. government can achieve the goals it has set for itself, it will be a big win for reducing biological risks domestically and around the world. If not, the risk of repeating the devastating failures of the COVID-19 response will grow, with even higher stakes as biological threats increase over time.
“To address rapidly evolving biological risks, the 2022 national biodefense strategy seeks to raise the bar for biosecurity and biosafety norms and practices domestically and globally,” said NTI Co-Chair and CEO Ernest J. Moniz. “It will be critical for U.S. senior leadership to maintain sustained, high-level attention to the priorities outlined in this strategy and to demand concrete, rapid progress toward achieving them.”
“The national biodefense strategy rightly takes a comprehensive approach, prioritizing work to bolster prevention, detection, and response capabilities,” said NTI Vice President for Global Biological Policy and Programs Jaime Yassif. “This is important because the world needs a layered defense to offer meaningful protection against global biological threats; we cannot afford to have a single point of failure.”
The plan’s focus on preventing global biological catastrophe, including through efforts to strengthen biosecurity and biosafety, is crucial. In particular, improving governance of bioscience and biotechnology is essential to effectively guard against deliberate and accidental misuse with potentially catastrophic global consequences. NTI welcomes the inclusion of efforts to “galvanize support for multilateral biosafety and biosecurity commitments and the establishment of regional and global mechanisms to raise the global bar for biosafety and biosecurity norms and practices.” Given rapidly emerging biological risks that accompany science and technology advances, this work is critically important and urgent. NTI is working to reduce these risks by developing the International Biosecurity and Biosafety Initiative for Science (IBBIS).
The new strategy’s requirement that the National Security Council and the Office of Science and Technology Policy conduct an interagency policy review regarding biosafety and biosecurity norms and oversight for life sciences research also is valuable. As the largest funder of bioscience and biotechnology research and development in the world, the U.S. Government has a responsibility to put guardrails in place to prevent laboratory accidents or deliberate misuse of the tools of modern bioscience and biotechnology. Doing so can have a profound direct impact in reducing global biological risks and serve as a valuable example for other funders around the world.
A focus on deterring bioweapons development also is a critical element of any effective strategy for reducing global biological risks. However, while we support the proposed activities outlined in the strategy—including working with foreign partners, strengthening the Biological Weapons Convention, and strengthening the United Nations Secretary General’s Mechanism—we believe that it will ultimately be necessary to pursue a broader, more ambitious vision to meaningfully strengthen deterrence. A truly effective approach to upholding the norm against bioweapons development and use will require new global mechanisms and innovative solutions that strengthen existing institutions while overcoming persistent barriers.
Lastly, NTI supports the call in the national strategy for additional financial resources, which will be critical for driving concrete progress in reducing global biological risks. We support the president’s budget request for $88 billion over five years for pandemic preparedness and biodefense, and we call on Congress to authorize much-needed funds to advance capacity to prevent and mitigate future catastrophic biological events in the United States and around the world.