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At EAGxBoston in April, I attended his talk of the same name (embedded below for those who prefer video format). I found it to be a great introduction to the current state of pandemic preparedness/GCBR. It has now been published as a paper by the Geneva Centre for Security Policy. I had some trouble finding it even on their website, so it seemed worth linkposting here. Executive summary and key takeaways are reproduced below.


Executive summary

The world is demonstrably vulnerable to the introduction of a single pandemic virus with a comparatively low case fatality rate. The deliberate and simultaneous release of many pandemic viruses across travel hubs could threaten the stability of civilisation. Current trends suggest that within a decade, tens of thousands of skilled individuals will be able to access the information required for them to single-handedly cause new pandemics. Safeguarding civilisation from the catastrophic misuse of biotechnology requires delaying the development and misuse of pandemic-class agents while building systems capable of reliably detecting threats and preventing nearly all infections.

Key takeaways

Background

  • We don't yet know of any credible viruses that could cause new pandemics, but ongoing research projects aim to publicly identify them.
  • Identifying a sequenced virus as pandemic-capable will allow >1,000 individuals to assemble it.
  • One person with a list of such viruses could simultaneously ignite multiple pandemics.
  • Viruses can spread faster than vaccines or antivirals can be distributed.
  • Pandemic agents are more lethal than nuclear devices and will be accessible to terrorists.

Delay

  • A pandemic test-ban treaty will delay proliferation without slowing beneficial advances.
  • Liability and insurance for catastrophic outcomes will compensate for negative externalities.
  • Secure and universal DNA synthesis screening can reduce unauthorised access by >100-fold.

Detect

  • Untargeted sequencing can reliably detect all exponentially spreading biological threats

Defend

Goal: eliminate the virus while providing food, water, power, law
enforcement, and healthcare

  • Develop and distribute pandemic-proof protective equipment for all essential workers
  • Comfortable, stylish, durable powered respirators must be proven to work reliably
  • Foster resilient supply chains, local production, and behavioural outbreak control
  • Strengthen systems and offer individualised early warning to block transmission
  • Develop and install germicidal low-wavelength lights, which appear to be harmless to humans
  • Overhead fixtures can reduce airborne and surface pathogens by >90 per cent in seconds

Read the Full PDF.

Comments7
Sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 11:52 PM

Thanks for posting this, Jeremy! The Delay, Detect, Defend framework is the best I know for understanding the strategy behind actionable interventions for GCBR reduction. A biosafe world seems within our reach, but we must take these threats seriously.

Agreed. I find Kevin to be an excellent communicator on the subject. There are a few other posts on the forum with podcasts and videos featuring him, easily found my searching on his name, for those who are interested in further content.

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For anyone interested in this topic, I recommend listening to this podcast, which hosts Kevin Esvelt and Jonas Sandbrink. They cover a lot of similar ground as the paper and I found it to be a pretty good listen. 

Thanks for sharing this! In case someone wants another summary/writeup, Kelsey Piper also wrote about this for Vox's Future Perfect.

Does anyone know if pandemic prevention PAC that SBF had been funding (Protecting our Future?) is going to live on? Seems like it should.

It's a great overview.

Some things I find missing/underemphasized in the Defense section:

  • Ventilation is mentioned briefly, mentioning that achieving aircraft-level ventilation (20 air changes/hour, ACH) is expensive and noisy. But substantial reduction already comes at 6ACH, and 12 ACH is really good (but would probably not stop Omicron BA1-level transmission in an immunologically naive population). Enforcing air quality standards in transport hubs seems a sensible and valuable policy to me.

  • Broad-spectrum antivirals aren't empathized because they would be circumventable and face distribution issues. The first seems not a strong reason: a number of antiviral medications together would very significantly constrain the option space. There are also plenty of immunosupportive therapeutics in development that would be hard to circumvent. I would think production would be a bigger issue than distribution? Stockpiling seems like the obvious solution.

  • There's decent evidence of certain nasal sprays (containing eg povidone iodine or carrageenan) being broadly effective against airborne pathogens. These could be stockpiled, freely distributed/cheaply promoted at travel hubs, or added to people's daily routines (e.g. like washing hands and brushing teeth)

Regarding Detection:

  • I'm not sure how long it will take to convince institutions to do air sampling. As an intermediate solution, air sampling could also be crowdsourced. There are people measuring CO2 levels everywhere they go. Let them take swabs from the outside of their respirators or portable air filters and send it to a lab?

This is terrifying.