TLDR; The UK government are reviewing their approach to biological security. They want input from people who have spent time thinking about biorisks and who have ideas and strategies to share. This could be high impact.

Overview

The UK Government want reduce biorisks, and want to know the most effective way to do that. They are asking for advice.

The Government is [...] asking for health and security experts to inform the refresh of the UK’s Biological Security Strategy, which aims to protect the country from a range of biological threats, including emerging infectious diseases and potential misuse by hostile actors.

The updated Strategy will incorporate learnings from the recent response to COVID-19, consider evolving priorities since the pandemic, and reflect the rapid advances in science and technology across all aspects of biological security.

The Call for Evidence, published on gov.uk, will seek feedback on specific biological security risks from experts including those with a background in biological engineering, biological security, contingency planning and other related technical fields.

In particular, they want to reduce the risks from

  • A major health crisis, such as pandemic influenza, non-influenza infectious outbreaks or new infectious disease
  • Antimicrobial resistance
  • A deliberate biological attack by state or non-state actors
  • Animal and plant diseases, which themselves can pose risks to human health
  • Accidental release, such as when smallpox and Foot and Mouth escaped from insecure labs, and dual-use research of concern, where life science research is misapplied to do harm

The press release can be found here. Full details here. What UK's current strategy can be found here. Responces must be in by the 29th of March.

Could This Be High Impact?

Yes! Biorisks are important. In The Precipice, Toby Ord puts the chance of existential catastrophe per century via engineered pandemics at 1 in 30. If we can reduce these risks, we definitely should.

The UK can move a lot of money. Defence spending is now at 2.2% of GDP and the Government has committed to increasing economy-wide investment in R&D to 2.4% of GDP by 2027 [1]. The slight chance of increasing the effectiveness of this spending could have a very large expected impact.

So, What Do They Want to Know?

They want to answers to the following questions:

1. What are the key biological security opportunities, challenges, threats and vulnerabilities facing the UK:

a. now?

b. in 5 years?

c. in 10 years?

2. How can the UK capitalise on the identified opportunities?

a. What are the key global, regional and domestic trends affecting UK biological security out to 2030?

b. How should the government prioritise its efforts to identify and respond to these?

c. How do new mitigations which emerged through the COVID-19 pandemic (such as mRNA vaccines) alter the risk landscape?

d. How might surveillance tools and capabilities enhance our resilience to natural hazards and malicious biological threats?

e. Are there successful examples of surveillance and/or wider approaches and capabilities for mitigating biological risks in other countries that we can learn from?

f. What further steps should the UK take to maximise our resilience to and preparedness for natural hazards, accidental release, malicious biological threats, and emerging zoonotic pathogens?

g. What role would health systems overseas (including in Low and Middle Income Countries) and their resilience play?

h. Should research and laboratory standards, safety and security play more of a role (domestic and international), and what else should we be doing?

3. What lessons can we learn from the UK’s biological security delivery since 2018, including but not limited to COVID-19?

a. Which are the key successes we should look to develop and build on, and where are areas for development?

b. How can the future development and delivery of the strategy be improved by adjustments to UK systems, capabilities and the UK life sciences industry?

c. Should the UK have a single accountable role or body responsible for meeting the full range of biological threats?

d. What can we learn from other countries’ biological security practises and experiences?

e. How should the UK engage with, support or influence, existing multilateral and other international collaborative efforts towards biological security to improve the impact of our strategy?

4. How should progress be monitored and evaluated, and how often should the strategy be refreshed?

a. Are there successful approaches in other countries that we can learn from?

b. How should UK collaborations, investments, and interventions be designed to assure the development and delivery of the strategy?

What Can I Do?

If you have expertise in "biological engineering, biological security, contingency planning [or] other related technical fields", and have evidence relevant to the questions above, follow the instructions here to respond. At the moment, it requires filling in a word document, and emailing it to the cabinet office.

Early responses are encouraged, and there is a hard deadline for submissions on the 29th of March 2022.

[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/global-britain-in-a-competitive-age-the-integrated-review-of-security-defence-development-and-foreign-policy/global-britain-in-a-competitive-age-the-integrated-review-of-security-defence-development-and-foreign-policy

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