This part of the website includes several different kinds of information. As with the website’s other components, this section includes descriptions of some of the current projects and recent reports from The National Academies that address a wide range of topics related to international dimensions of biosecurity. Some of these are also included on other parts of the site. But it also highlights the work that the Academies do with international partners, particularly other national and international scientific organizations, and the activities such organizations have undertaken on their own.
Examples of Current Projects
An ad hoc committee appointed by the National Research Council will develop a framework for an international series of faculty development workshops with the goal of promoting and enhancing education about issues related to research in the life sciences with dual use potential in key regions around the world. The workshops will bring together higher education faculty in the life sciences as well as experts in related areas to teach and learn about methods for effective teaching and learning, develop curricular materials to facilitate education about dual use issues that they will use in their classes, and become prepared to be leaders in their communities on these topics. A letter report describes the results of a 2011 planning meeting held in cooperation with the Bibliotheca Alexandrina of Egypt and TWAS─The Academy of Sciences for the Developing World. The first Institute is expected to held in Egypt in late spring 2012.
An ad hoc committee will carry out an assessment of U.S.-Russian bio-engagement activities during the past 15 years, with particular attention to the impacts of various types of bio-engagement activities, lessons learned from engagement activities that are relevant for future U.S.-Russian bio-engagement programs, and future approaches to U.S.-Russian bio-engagement, particularly approaches that build on the foundations for cooperation that have been established during recent years.
Work with Other Academies
The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) formed the Committee on International Security and Arms Control (CISAC) in 1980 as a permanent committee to bring the resources of the Academy to bear on critical problems of international security and arms control. CISAC, in the Policy and Global Affairs Division, draws from the nation’s finest scientific, technical, engineering and medical talent to advise the government, contribute to the work of non-governmental organizations, and inform the public about scientific and technical issues related to international security and arms control.
CISAC’s security dialogues with Russia (since 1981), China (since 1988) and India (since 1999) allow the Committee to address technical and potentially sensitive issues in international security, arms control and disarmament related to nuclear and biological weapons and terrorism even when official relations are strained. These “Track II” dialogues, built on a foundation of scientist-to-scientist interaction, allow the Committee to sustain links to heads of state, senior parliamentarians and military officers in an international network of science academies and organizations in many countries around the world.
Other Activities with the Russian Academy of Sciences
In addition to CISAC’s work, The National Academies have maintained a longstanding bilateral relationship with the Russian Academy of Sciences dating back over 50 years. Since the early 1990s, this has included a number of projects related to biosecurity, both for as an independent topic and as part of broader work on countering terrorism. One of the current projects is described above. Some of the recent reports resulting from these activities include:
The African Science Academy Development Initiative (ASADI), launched in 2004 by the U.S. National Academies and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is a 10-year effort to strengthen the capability of African science academies to provide independent, evidence-supported advice to inform African government policy making and public discourse related to improving human health. The initiative also aims to foster a deeper appreciation on the part of African governments for the benefits of decision making based on evidence and analysis—with a view toward building the demand for Academy-led efforts.
The national academies in the ASADI program undertake projects on a wide range of issues, including biosecurity. The Ugandan National Academy of Sciences has been particularly active, with two regional workshops and a consensus study that informed the development of biosafety and biosecurity legislation and policy for the country.
- Establishing and Promoting Standards and Good Laboratory Practice (GLP) for Running Safe, Secure, and Sustainable Laboratories in Africa. A Regional Workshop (2009)
- Promoting Biosafety and Biosecurity within the Life Sciences: An International Workshop in East Africa (2008)
Work with International Partners
Over the last decade scientific organizations have become increasingly engaged in addressing biosecurity issues. Many of the efforts focus on addressing concerns about security while enabling scientific progress to continue and ensuring that access to the fruits of progress are globally available. This reflects both the growing globalization of life sciences research and industry and the global nature of the risks posed by biological weapons and bioterrorism. National and international groups from around the world have carried out studies and held meetings, accumulating an impressive list of activities. Examples of Activities and Resources on Biosecurity from Academies and Scientific Unions
One of the Academies’ main partners is IAP─The Global Network of Science Academies. IAP (formerly the InterAcademy Panel on International Issues) is a global network of over 100 science academies in a partnership “committed to making the voice of science heard on issues of crucial importance to the future of humankind.” In 2004, IAP created a Biosecurity Working Group, whose chair is the Polish Academy of Sciences. In addition to the Polish Academy, the current members of the Working Group are the national academies of China, Cuba, Egypt, India, Nigeria, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The Working Group’s first project was the production of the IAP Statement on Biosecurity, which outlines a set of principles to aid scientific bodies in drafting codes of conduct. The Working Group’s activities now emphasize two issues:
- Education and awareness raising in the scientific community about its responsibilities to help mitigate the risks associated with the potential misuse of developments in the life sciences, and
- Improving the ability of international scientific organizations to provide advice regarding the implications of ongoing advances in the life sciences, especially to international organizations such as the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC).
The activities are frequently undertaken in partnership with other organizations.
In November 2009, IAP and its partners held a workshop at the Polish Academy of Sciences to develop recommendations for the most effective approaches to educating life scientists internationally on dual use issues. More than 60 participants from almost 30 countries took part in the meeting, including life scientists, bioethics and biosecurity practitioners, and experts in the design of educational programs.
The report of an international steering committee, Challenges and Opportunities for Education About Dual Use Issues in the Life Sciences, was released in September 2010. The report identifies (1) the extent to which dual use issues are currently included in postsecondary education in the life sciences, (2) the contexts in which education is occurring, and (3) what existing needs must be addressed to enable a significant expansion of education about dual use issues. It also emphasizes the increasing number of educational initiatives being undertaken in all parts of the world. It led to the current effort, described above, to develop training workshops to increase the capacity of faculty to include biosecurity issues as part of the training life scientists and those in related fields receive about responsible conduct of science.
Advances in Science & Technology (S&T)
In early November 2010 IAP, the International Union of Microbiological Societies (IUMS) and the International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (IUBMB) co-sponsored a workshop on “Trends in Science and Technology Relevant to the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention in Beijing, China. The goal of the project was to offer an independent contribution from the international scientific community to the 7th Review Conference of the Convention, which was held in December 2011. The meeting, hosted by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, brought together almost 80 participants from 28 countries, including practicing scientists and government and non government technical and policy experts.
An international steering committee under the auspices of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences prepared a factual summary of the presentations and a final report with a number of findings and conclusions, which was organized around three major themes that emerged from the workshop:
- The rapid pace of change in the life sciences and related fields;
- The increasing diffusion of life sciences research capacity and its applications, both internationally and beyond traditional research institutions; and
- The extent to which additional scientific and technical disciplines beyond biology are increasingly involved in life sciences research.
The report also underscored the relevance of S&T to every major article of the Convention and the challenges and opportunities that the advances present for implementation. The report did not make recommendations about policy options to respond to the implications of the identified trends because the choice of such responses rests with the 165 States Parties to the Convention, who must take into account multiple factors beyond the project’s focus on the state of the science. The executive summary of the report was included as part of New scientific and technological developments relevant to the Convention: Background information document submitted by the Implementation Support Unit.
This was the most recent in a series of meetings that, taken together, comprise an informal “science advising network” for the Biological as well as the Chemical Weapons Conventions. In 2006, IAP and the International Council for Science collaborated with the Royal Society of the UK on a workshop to provide an independent scientific assessment of the implications of S&T developments. Similarly, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) organized workshops in 2002 and 2007 for the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons on trends in S&T relevant to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), and a third workshop is being planned for late February 2012.
International Forums on Biosecurity
In 2005, the National Academy of Sciences, IAP, ICSU and the InterAcademy Medical Panel (IAMP) convened the 1st International Forum on Biosecurity in Como, Italy. The purpose of the Forum was to:
- Serve as a convening and coordinating mechanism to share information about activities under way or planned to address biosecurity issues. For example, a number of organizations were considering the development of codes of conduct for those doing research in the life sciences or biomedical fields, a topic that was also discussed at the meetings of experts and States Parties to the Biological Weapons Convention in the summer and fall of 2005.
- Provide an opportunity for a discussion of these activities, identifying potential gaps and needs and how they might be filled, and, in this context, opportunities for future international cooperation and collaboration.
- Broaden the debate and advance the awareness in the life sciences and biomedical research communities – and in the international scientific community more generally – about the challenges posed by the “dual use” dilemma.
The 2nd International Forum on Biosecurity was convened in Budapest, Hungary in 2008 in partnership with IAP, IUBMB, and IUMS. It reflected efforts over the previous five years to engage the international community of life scientists in addressing how to reduce the risk that the results of their work could be used for hostile purposes by terrorists and states.
The participants who gathered at the Forum were already engaged in this challenging task, and, therefore, the focus of the meeting was on what had been accomplished and what challenges remained. There was no attempt to achieve consensus, since there exist real and important differences among those involved concerning the appropriate policies and actions to be undertaken. But there was a serious effort to identify a range of potential next steps, and also an effort to identify opportunities where international scientific organizations could make substantive contributions and offer their advice and expertise to policy discussions.