Happy Friday! This edition is packed with new publications, upcoming events, opportunities, and resources. Some highlights include a piece on rad and nuke threats from a Biodefense PhD alumna, an exciting new podcast from CSIS a current Biodefense MS student helped launch, a very helpful piece from the Washington Post outlining Russia’s disinformation, and an upcoming book talk covering “Lessons from the Covid War: A Report by the Covid Crisis Group” hosted by the Schar School.
“ASPR Releases Public Health Emergency Medical Countermeasure Enterprise Multiyear Budget Assessment”
This week, “…the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response (ASPR) released the Public Health Emergency Medical Countermeasure Enterprise (PHEMCE) Multiyear Budget (MYB) for fiscal years 2022-2026. The report assesses budget needs to support medical countermeasure priorities which would allow the U.S. Government to prepare for the next public health threat. The multiyear budget projects an estimated overall funding need of $64 billion over the five-year period.”
‘“HHS’ recent responses to COVID-19, mpox, and Ebola, demonstrate the importance of a strong domestic medical countermeasure enterprise,” said Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Dawn O’Connell. “As the first PHEMCE multiyear budget released since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, it will serve as a useful tool for Congress to gauge ASPR’s funding levels to provide the country protection against whatever comes next.”’
“The PHEMCE is an interagency body that reviews the current threat landscape and makes recommendations to the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on available or future medical countermeasures. This MYB was built over a period of time in which there were continuing resolutions, omnibus spending bills, and a near-simultaneously released President’s budget—this MYB is indicative of the assessed need and does not substitute for requested levels in the President’s Budget.”
“The multiyear budget also provides Congress and external stakeholders with funding information related to investments made in specified threats. The report highlights key priorities — from supporting innovative approaches to MCM development, to fostering clear, scientifically supported regulatory pathways for MCMs, to ensuring our national security.”
“The report, which picks up in 2022 – where the last MYB left off, estimates a gap of $35.3 billion between the flat fiscal year 2022 level and projected five-year total. ASPR looks forward to working with Congress to overcome challenges and ensure America is prepared for whatever threat is around the corner.”
Read more here and download the full multiyear budget here.
ICYMI: “HERA Signs Agreement with ECDC and with EMA to Strengthen Cooperation on Health Emergency Preparedness and Response”
Earlier this month, the European Commission’s “Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), as well as HERA and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) have agreed to strengthen cooperation and to coordinate their work in support of health emergency preparedness and response in the area of medical countermeasures…The agreed working arrangements will help ensure that there are no unnecessary overlaps and that resources are used more efficiently.”
These arrangements aim to improve collaboration in areas like intelligence gathering and assessment, assessment of major cross-border health threats, and contribution to reinforcing the global health emergency preparedness and response architecture.
Learn more and read the agreements here.
“Civil Defense for Radiological Threats”
This CBNW article, written by Biodefense PhD alumna Dr. Mary Sproull, explores improvements made since 9/11 in American preparedness for radiological and nuclear threats and highlights key areas of mass casualty planning that require further improvement.
She writes in her conclusion, “As primary response for any emergency is initially a local response, development of a base of local radiation experts nationwide is an important step for civil defense. Integration and establishment of working relationships between these local radiation SME and the first responders and medical professionals they will be supporting prior to future emergencies is also key to ensure a level of trust for effective mitigation of radiation dread. The ROSS program is an important aspect of emergency preparedness which should receive more visibility, financial support, and resources to increase access for training opportunities at the local level. Further, increased funding to support training of first responders and medical personal themselves on the relative health risks of radiation exposure is needed. “
“The Nonproliferation Compliance Cheminformatics Tool Completes a Second Test”
This project note from the Stemson Center provides an update on the Nonproliferation Compliance Cheminformativs Tool. The note explains, “The NCCT is a proof of concept of a practical tool to aid frontline officers – border security, customs, law enforcement, defense, chemical industry – to quickly check available chemical identifying information (name, registry number, molecular structure) against national or international control lists of chemical warfare agents or precursors. Frontline officers typically have just seconds to determine whether a given substance is a concern or not – a task that can be complex and time-consuming even for trained chemists. Developed jointly by the Stimson Center, Prof. Stefano Costanzi’s research group at American University, and Dr. Koblentz of George Mason University, and funded by Global Affairs Canada, the proof of concept consists of a database of chemical structures implemented and run through a commercial, desktop-based cheminformatics software (ChemAxon’s Instant JChem).”
“The Future of Chemical Disarmament in an Eroding Global Order”
“On February 7-8, the Center for Global Security Research (CGSR) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) hosted a workshop titled “The Future of Chemical Disarmament in an Eroding Global Order.” This workshop brought together over 100 participants drawn across the policy, military, and technical communities from nine countries and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). The workshop aimed to examine: (1) the transformation of OPCW from an organization whose current primary mission is to verify and monitor the destruction of declared chemical weapons (CW) stockpiles to one that is focused on preventing their re-emergence and (2) the fate of multilateral arms control regimes such as the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and multilateralism in an eroding global order.”
The workshop summary, which includes discussion of key takeaways and highlights from each panel, as well as the annotated bibliography for this workshop (both of which Biodefense PhD student Danyale Kellogg helped prepare) are available on CGSR’s website.
“A Short History of the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense”
COL Paul Kassebaum and Dr. James Dillman chronicle and discuss the history of MRICD in this piece for CBNW, writing in part “Since 1917, U.S. Army scientists have developed medical solutions for chemical threats. That legacy is carried on today by the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense (MRICD) at Aberdeen Proving Ground-South in Edgewood, Maryland. MRICD traces its origins to components of the Army Medical Department responsible for defense against chemical weapons during World War I. In October 1922, the Medical Research Division was organized at Edgewood Arsenal to study the pharmacological actions of chemical threat agents, to develop treatments for exposed casualties, and to provide the information generated to Army Medical Corps personnel. During this period, Edgewood Arsenal became the center for chemical defense research, development, and testing operations.”
“There’s a ‘ChatGPT’ for biology. What could go wrong?”
Sean Ekins, Filippa Lentzos, Max Brackmann, and Cédric Invernizzi tackle the security issues posed by models like ProtGPT2 and ProGen in this piece for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, explaining “In recent months ChatGPT and other AI chatbots with uncanny abilities to respond to prompts with fluid, human-like writing have unleashed torrents of angst flowing from different quarters of society; the chatbots could help students cheat, encroach on jobs, or mass produce disinformation. Outside of the spotlight shining on the chatbots, researchers in the life sciences have also been rolling out similar artificial intelligence-driven technology, but to much less fanfare. That’s concerning, because new algorithms for protein design, while potentially advancing the ability to fight disease, may also create significant opportunities for misuse.”
“As biotech production processes are evolving to make it easier for creators to make the synthetic DNA and other products they’ve designed, new AI models like ProtGPT2 and ProGen will allow researchers to conceive of a far greater range of molecules and proteins than ever. Nature took millions of years to design proteins. AI can generate meaningful protein sequences in seconds. While there are good reasons to develop AI technology for biological design, there are also risks to such efforts that scientists in the field don’t appear to have weighed. AI could be used to design new bioweapons or toxins that can’t be detected. As these systems develop alongside new easier, cheaper, and faster production capabilities, scientists should talk to and learn from peers who focus on biosecurity risks.”
“The Biorisk Management Casebook: Insights into Contemporary Practices”
New from Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation: “Stanford University’s Bio Policy & Leadership in Society Initiative (Bio.Polis), in collaboration with the Program on Science, Technology & Society at the Harvard Kennedy School and with support from the Global Biological Policy and Programs team at the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI | bio), is pleased to announce the launch of The Biorisk Management Casebook: Insights into Contemporary Practices. The Casebook and the accompanying Biorisk Management Case Study Collection gathers and analyzes how biorisk management is practiced in diverse life science organizations across the research lifecycle.”
“As life science research matures globally, it is also vital to mature the management of biosafety and biosecurity risks that can accompany discovery and innovation. In this context generalized frameworks for biorisk management have been developed alongside guidance documents. However, the breadth of risks and the diversity of organizations supporting research pose challenges to the continued development, adaptation, and implementation of these frameworks. In addition, organizations lack access to concrete examples of how frameworks are or have been implemented in practice, hindering their ability to learn from one another. “
“How Russia Turned America’s Helping Hand to Ukraine Into a Vast Lie”
This piece by the Washington Post Editorial Board discusses Russia’s ongoing disinformation efforts, building on previous reporting on social media policing in authoritarian regimes. The authors write, “Disinformation is not just “fake news” or propaganda but an insidious contamination of the world’s conversations. And it is exploding.”
They continue on to explain the origin of the United States’ bio collaborations with Ukraine and Georgia, writing “The agreement with Ukraine grew out of the 1992 Nunn-Lugar legislation, sponsored by Mr. Lugar and Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) to clean up the Cold War legacy of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons in the former Soviet Union, an effort that became known as Cooperative Threat Reduction. In the 1990s, thousands of nuclear warheads and missiles were liquidated, followed by vast stocks of chemical weapons. Later, the Nunn-Lugar program expanded into reducing biological threats in Russian laboratories, as well as other former Soviet republics. Among other efforts, a public health reference laboratory — named the Lugar Center — was opened in Tbilisi, Georgia, in 2011. Pathogens stored in a Soviet-era research institute in the center of Tbilisi were moved to a purpose-built, secure facility.”
They explain the periodic attacks these programs have faced from Russia, describing the “firehose of falsehoods” aimed at them. At the end of this very detailed retelling of these long-standing efforts, they conclude “Open societies are vulnerable because they are open. The asymmetries in favor of malign use of information are sizable. Democracies must find a way to adapt. The dark actors morph constantly, so the response needs to be systematic and resilient.”
“In a world that connects billions of people at a flash, the truth may have only a fighting chance against organized lying. As an old saying has it: “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”’
What We’re Watching and Listening To 🍿🎧
Check out this new podcast from the CSIS Bipartisan Alliance for Global Health Security: “On The CommonHealth, hosts J. Stephen Morrison, Katherine Bliss, and Andrew Schwartz delve deeply into the puzzle that connects pandemic preparedness and response, HIV/AIDS, routine immunization, and primary care, areas of huge import to human and national security. The CommonHealth replaces under a single podcast the Coronavirus Crisis Update, Pandemic Planet and AIDS Existential Moment.”
Current episodes include interviews with Sherly Gay Stolberg and Dr. Raquel Bono covering different topics related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Biodefense MS student Sophie Hirshfield, a current CSIS intern, also helped create this podcast!
SIPRI Launches Video Series on Biosecurity Risks and Emerging Technology
From the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute: “SIPRI is pleased to launch a new video series that explores biosecurity risks linked to emerging technologies and considers how these risks can be addressed. The series features international experts from the research fields of genetics, bioethics, international affairs and microbiology.”
“The interviews were conducted during an expert workshop in Stockholm in January 2023 on risk at the intersection of biological science and technological developments. The workshop and this video series are part of SIPRI’s work to develop a toolkit for biorisk assessment, targeting academics and researchers in the life sciences. This work, undertaken with support from the British Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, examines dual-use technologies that have implications for the proliferation, development and use of biological weapons. The series gives a voice to key stakeholders in the field, working towards a mutual understanding of the challenges affecting the convergence of biotechnology and emerging technologies.”
The Kremlin’s Bioweapons Lies
This YouTube short from the US Department of State’s Share America channel offers a succinct overview of Russia’s false BW claims and the threats this poses to legitimate, peaceful scientific collaboration globally.
Lessons From the COVID War: An Investigative Report
Beyond the Pandemic: Addressing Attacks on Researchers and Health Professionals
From the National Academies: “Last fall, the Committee on Human Rights (CHR) held a webcast series, Silencing Scientists and Health Workers during the Pandemic, which examined threats and attacks against science and health professionals connected to their work to combat the spread of COVID-19, as well as related implications for internationally-protected human rights.”
“On April 11 (3:00-4:15 pm ET), the CHR will host a webcast to mark the launch of the webcast series’ Proceedings-in Brief. This event will gather experts to explore practical steps that scientists, researchers, and health professionals are taking to protect themselves and their colleagues from targeting—including violence, harassment, and other attacks.”
Learn more and register here.
Nobel Prize Summit-Truth, Trust and Hope
Taking place May 24-26 this year in DC and virtually, this Nobel Prize Summit asks “How can we build trust in truth, facts and scientific evidence so that we can create a hopeful future for all?”
“Misinformation is eroding our trust in science and runs the risk of becoming one of the greatest threats to our society today.”
“Join us at this years’ Nobel Prize Summit which brings together laureates, leading experts and you in a conversation on how we can combat misinformation, restore trust in science and create a hopeful future.”
Learn more and register here.
Gordon Research Conference: Cross-Cutting Science Facilitating Collaboration Across the Threat-Science Research Community
“The Nonproliferation, Counterproliferation and Disarmament Science GRC is a premier, international scientific conference focused on advancing the frontiers of science through the presentation of cutting-edge and unpublished research, prioritizing time for discussion after each talk and fostering informal interactions among scientists of all career stages. The conference program includes a diverse range of speakers and discussion leaders from institutions and organizations worldwide, concentrating on the latest developments in the field. The conference is five days long and held in a remote location to increase the sense of camaraderie and create scientific communities, with lasting collaborations and friendships. In addition to premier talks, the conference has designated time for poster sessions from individuals of all career stages, and afternoon free time and communal meals allow for informal networking opportunities with leaders in the field.”
This conference will take place July 9-14 in Ventura, CA. Learn more and register here.
Call for Papers: “Training Programmes To Counter Current And Emerging Biological And Chemical Proliferation Risks: Themes, Practices, And Lessons Learnt”
From the Journal of Strategic Trade Control: “The purpose of this call for papers is to facilitate inter-disciplinary exchange regarding the implementation of training to counter emerging chemical and biological proliferation challenges. In particular, the call welcomes contributions in the form of JOSTC articles on the processes, mechanisms, and tools for creating awareness of the following topics:
– Cross-border movement (e.g. transport, shipment) of chemical and biological materials and equipment.
– Cross-border movement of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
– Trade in sensitive and dual-use chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) materials and equipment.
– Strategic trade control regimes of relevance to disarmament and non-proliferation.
– Information security, data sharing, and cybersecurity challenges to CBRN non-proliferation.
– Due diligence and risk management initiatives to safeguard global supply chains against misuse and diversion.
Information about this call is available on the JoSTC webpage and the full description of the call can be accessed here. The deadline for paper submission is 2 October 2023.”
Weekly Trivia Question
You read the Pandora Report every week and now it’s time for you to show off what you know! The first person to send the correct answer to firstname.lastname@example.org will get a shout out in the following issue (first name last initial). Our question this week is: “This well-known Irish-born American cook is thought to have infected as many as 122 people with typhoid fever and was the first person in the US identified as an asymptomatic carrier of the bacteria that cause the disease-Salmonella typhi. What was her legal name?”
Shout out to Georgios P. for correctly answering last week’s trivia. Our question was: “Before the infamous sarin attack on the Tokyo subway, Aum Shinrikyo attempted to use biological weapons. In July 1993, what agent did the cult attempt to spread from a cooling tower on the roof of their headquarters?” The answer is B. anthracis.