Pandora Report: 7.22.2022

Happy Friday and the end to a sweltering week across the world! This week we discuss monkeypox as the WHO reconsiders a PHEIC declaration, a case of polio in New York, and BA.5’s spread in our third summer dealing with the pandemic. We also feature a Biodefense MS student’s recent work that is available on the Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center’s website, the launch of One Health Workforce Academies, and new resources and discussion of how Canada is handling Russian disinformation. Stay cool and safe this weekend and we will see you next week!

Monkeypox Cases Break 15,000, WHO Reconsiders PHEIC Declaration

The growing monkeypox threat has started to hit much closer to home for many of us, as the global case count surpasses 15,000. Cases are still primarily in men who have sex with men, which WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus explains offers both an opportunity and great cause for concern. “There is a very real concern that men who have sex with men could be stigmatised or blamed for the outbreak, making the outbreak much harder to track, and to stop,” said Tedros. “This transmission pattern represents both an opportunity to implement targeted public health interventions, and a challenge because in some countries, the communities affected face life-threatening discrimination.” With cases climbing, the WHO is meeting once again to determine if monkeypox is now a public health emergency of international concern, having opted not to do so last month.

In Europe, the epicenter of the global outbreak, a Dutch child was found to have the disease despite having no known exposure, according to a report in Eurosurveillance. The boy traveled to Turkey for a week in June and, upon returning home, developed facial lesions that later spread across his body. The authors explain that, “Indirect transmission routes have been described, such as respiratory transmission through droplets or contaminated materials such as bedding and towels, ” the authors explained. “Therefore, it is possible that the child was in close contact with an infectious person or contaminated object that was not recognised as such.” CIDRAP also notes, “Upon further investigation, the child was also diagnosed as having an immunoglobulin A (IgA) deficiency, which would make him more vulnerable to respiratory infections.”

US Announces Polio Case in New York

New York State Health Department officials announced this week that an unvaccinated man was diagnosed with polio, the first US case in nearly a decade. The man is reported to have developed paralysis, with his symptoms starting nearly a month ago despite not traveling outside the country. AP reports, “It appears the patient had a vaccine-derived strain of the virus, perhaps from someone who got live vaccine — available in other countries, but not the U.S. — and spread it, officials said. The person is no longer deemed contagious, but investigators are trying to figure out how the infection occurred and whether other people were exposed to the virus.” Polio primarily affects children under the age of five and, while there is not a cure, it is vaccine preventable with the CDC reporting that people who are vaccinated “are most likely protected for many years after a complete series of [vaccines]”.

The Hot(test) COVID Summer Yet?

Amid record-breaking temperatures and swelling case counts, many are turning their attention again to issues in masking and the uneasy “peace” there currently is with COVID-19, even as public fears about frequent reinfection with BA.5 loom. President Biden also tested positive this week, another in a long string of world leaders who have caught the disease over the last couple of years. However, as debates continue to rage about masking, it is important to remember the serious risks the extreme heat poses. Biodefense Program faculty member, Dr. Saskia Popescu, posted this reminder on Twitter:

“Illicit Trade and Biological Risk”

Biodefense MS student, Michelle Grundahl, recently was featured on the Schar School’s Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center’s website along with her paper discussing the often overlooked global health and BW proliferation risks illicit trade carries. Her paper covers biosecurity risks, illicit or unregulated animal trade, deliberately-made biological risks, and policy solutions, concluding “Holistic approaches are required for the prevention and control of emerging and resurging diseases. The complex (and sometimes illicit) interconnections among humans, domestic animals, and wildlife can share threats of disease – to individuals, food supplies, economies, and the functioning ecosystems that support all the species on Earth.”

This Podcast Will Kill You: “Episode 100 Monkeypox: Here We Go Again?”

Need a one-stop shop for information and context about monkeypox? The Erins are back, discussing the history, biology, and epidemiology of this disease in their latest episode of This Podcast Will Kill You.

Virtual Course: Combating Transnational Organized Crime and Illicit Trade: A Focus on the Americas

The Schar School’s Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center is partnering with UPEACE to offer this week-long course. The course aims to improve students’ comprehension of the dynamics of transnational organized crime, focusing on money laundering, corruption, illicit trade, security, free trade zones, state fragility, and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (Agenda 2030).

The main objective of the course is to identify how different types of crime impact the capacity of the state to manage and mitigate internal and external threats. The course will also push participants to think about organized crime from a more nuanced perspective, specifically as an aspect of social conflict, emphasizing that the challenges for promoting peace are embedded in local, regional, and global contexts.

The 1-week innovative certificate course will take place virtually from the 22nd to the 26th of August 2022 and has a fee of $200 USD. Learn more and register here.

International One Health Conference- A Systemic Approach to Managing Urban and Natural Resources

The University of Catania is hosting this conference on September 27-28, 2022. The conference will be held in hybrid form, with 1/2 days to share and debate on experiences of systemic approaches to One Health and visions for a better systemic approach to managing urban and natural resources. “The conference aims to activate synergic dialogues among disciplinary research fields and action domains among researchers, experts and students. The One Health conceptual framework and the possible contribution from the One Health approach in the urban resilience capacities enhancement will be the core of the congress dialogues.” Learn more and register here.

One Health Workforce Academies Launches

One Health Workforce Academies (OHWA), a program backed by USAID, UC Berkeley, Eco Health Alliance, and more recently launched its website that will soon offer online training in a number of topics and even One Health certification. It will also soon offer a career board and a number of pages for students looking to become involved in the movement.

Biointelligence and Biosecurity for the Intelligence Community Seedling Research Topic – Broad Agency Announcement

ODNI’s Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) recently announced Naval Information Warfare Center, Pacific, on behalf of IARPA, is soliciting proposals under a broad agency announcement for the Biointelligence and Biosecurity for the Intelligence Community (B24IC) program’s Seedling Research Topic. The B24IC program “…seeks to develop new capabilities, matching the wider synthetic biology and biotechnology fields, ensuring the Intelligence Community’s (IC’s) capability to meet the biointelligence and biosecurity threats of the 21st century.” Learn more about the solicitation on SAM.gov.

Russian WMD Disinformation Resources

We are currently working on creating a searchable collection of resources on Russian WMD disinformation on the Pandora Report site. The page is a work in progress, and currently just lists resources we have highlighted in the past. In the meantime, here are some recent updates and works on the topic:

“Canada’s Efforts to Counter Disinformation – Russian Invasion of Ukraine”

Our neighbor to the north is cracking down on Russian disinformation, having recently launched their own government website debunking and outlining Russian attempts to influence narratives abroad in recent years in the wake of Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly’s announcement of a new round of sanctions against the Kremlin. It is also increasingly clear that right-wing Canadians are also struggling with Russian disinformation, as discussed by a team of scholars from Toronto Metropolitan University recently in The Conversation. Their article, “Russian Propaganda is Making Inroads with Right-Wing Canadians,” reads in part, “Slightly over half of Canadians (51 per cent) reported encountering at least one persistent, false claim about the Russia-Ukraine war on social media pushed by the Kremlin and pro-Kremlin accounts.”

“Fact Sheet on WMD Threat Reduction Efforts with Ukraine, Russia and Other Former Soviet Union Countries”

The Department of Defense recently released this fact sheet covering the history and accomplishments of US collaboration with the international community to reduce WMD threats in Ukraine, Russia, and other countries who were formerly part of the USSR. It provides a comprehensive yet concise timeline of efforts, including the Nunn-Lugar CTR program, and discusses efforts by Russia and China to undermine these immense accomplishments today to further their agendas.

Pandora Report: 7.15.2022

It’s Friday and we are bringing you updates on new recommendations to improve US Government DURC and ePPPs oversight, a recent GAO report on CDC’s data system’s faults, ISIS plans to use chemical weapons in Europe, and new US legislation that could ban NIH and CDC funds from being used to support Chinese researchers. We also have the usual slate of new publications and upcoming events in addition to announcements and updates to our running list of information on Russia’s WMD disinformation campaign.

Experts Propose Strengthening US Government’s Enhanced Potential Pandemic Pathogen Framework and Dual Use Research of Concern Policies

A group of scientists and experts in public health and policy have submitted recommendations “…intended to strengthen the oversight of research involving enhanced potential pandemic pathogens (ePPPs) and life sciences dual-use research of concern to the White House National Security Council and Office of Science and Technology Policy, the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the National Science Advisory Board on Biosecurity (NSABB). The US government is currently reviewing its policies that provide governance and guidance for this realm of research.” Their recommendations include actions like “Modify and expand the scope of pathogens to be governed by the ePPP Framework,” “Clarify and restructure processes of review, communication, biosafety and biosecurity, and transparency,” and “Revise the USG DURC Policy to expand its scope and clarify requirements.” Dr. Gregory Koblentz endorsed the recommendations. Read more about them here.

Audit Finds the CDC is Unprepared to Quickly Respond to Disease Threats Posed by International Travel

A new Report to Congressional Addressees from the Government Accountability Office, “Contact Tracing for Air Travel: CDC’s Data System Needs Substantial Improvement,” found that “…limitations in how CDC collects and manages air passengers’ contact information—including CDC’s use of an outdated data management system— hinder the agency’s ability to monitor public health risks and facilitate contact
tracing.” It continues on to explain that, “The data management system—developed in the mid-2000s—was not designed for rapid assessment or aggregation of public health data across individual cases. For example, CDC is unable to quickly and accurately identify the number of passengers exposed to a specific infected passenger on a flight. Nor does the system contain the necessary data fields to assess the quality of air passenger information CDC receives, such as a field to determine the timeliness of airlines’ responses to CDC’s request. Consequently, CDC is not positioned to efficiently analyze and disseminate data to inform public health policies and respond to disease threats. Nor is it positioned to evaluate its performance in collecting and sharing quality passenger information.”

ISIS Planned Chemical Weapons Attacks in Europe

Joby Warrick, author of Black Flags, writes in The Washington Post about the results of a UN investigation into the terrorist group’s plans to use chemical weapons in Europe, writing “New insights also are emerging from a U.N. investigation that is combing through millions of pages of Islamic State records as it seeks evidence of the group’s war crimes. In addition, several current and former U.S. officials in interviews with The Post spoke for the first time in detail about an urgently planned military operation, conducted in 2015 by U.S. Special Operations forces with assistance from Kurdish Peshmerga operatives, to kill Sabawi and crush the weapons program before it reached maturity.” Salih al-Sabawi, an Iraqi CW expert later known in ISIS as Abu Malik, had the intention to “create a large stockpile consisting of multiple types of chemical and biological agents to be used in military campaigns as well as in terrorist attacks against the major cities of Europe,” according to US officials.

Dr. Gregory Koblentz was quoted in the article as well, saying: “If Abu Malik had survived, his experience working for Saddam’s program would have made the threat of the Islamic State’s chemical weapons much higher,” said Gregory Koblentz, an expert on chemical and biological weapons and director of the Biodefense Graduate Program at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University. “It is pretty horrifying to think of what could have happened if the Islamic State had used a chemical weapon, instead of guns and bombs, to conduct one of their attacks in a major European city.”

Bill Proposes Ban on NIH and CDC Funding for Chinese Research Laboratories

The debate over US support for Chinese research facilities continues as lawmakers consider a ban that would bar funds from the CDC and NIH from being used to support institutions in certain countries. The ban is part of a 2023 spending bill that passed the House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations in late June that grew out of suspicions about the Wuhan Institute of Virology, according to Science. Jocelyn Kaiser writes, “Specifically, the measure would bar the Department of Health and Human Services (the parent agency of NIH and CDC) from funding WIV or “any other laboratory” in China, Russia, or any country the U.S. government has designated a foreign adversary, a list that currently includes Iran and North Korea.” She continues, explaining “Some scientific organizations are concerned by the proposal’s expansive scope. “It seems a bit extreme,” says Eva Maciejewski, spokesperson for the Foundation for Biomedical Research, which advocates for animal research. “In theory it’s good to have oversight over biosafety and animal welfare, but in practice there may be better ways than blocking all NIH funding to foreign countries.”

There are also concerns for how this could impact patient recruitment and international research teams, Maciejewski explains. “Projects that do not involve laboratory work—such as a long-running NIH-funded survey on health and retirement in China—could be spared. But many others would likely be vulnerable, including three projects headed by Chinese investigators studying influenza and the mosquito-borne diseases dengue and malaria, and dozens of subawards to Chinese groups participating in clinical trials of drugs, studies of the health effects of heavy metals, and neuroscience research. The U.S. leader of one clinical trial in Shanghai—who asked for anonymity—said his Chinese partner is a former trainee and “close collaborator,” and it would not be possible to recruit enough patients at a single site in the United States.”

CDC Special Report-“COVID-19 U.S. Impact on Antimicrobial Resistance”

CDC’s new report discusses changes in healthcare settings and other consequences of the pandemic that have worsened antimicrobial resistance in the US. The report focuses on COVID-19’s impacts on tracking and data, preventing infections, antibiotic use, environment and sanitation, and vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics. It finds that there was an increase of at least 15% from 2019 to 2020 in resistant infections starting during hospitalization, also noting that “Because of pandemic impacts, 2020 data are delayed or unavailable for 9 of the 18 antimicrobial resistance threats.” It also provides an outlook and recommendations for the future of building public health capacity for antimicrobial resistance.

“Germany Prioritizes Biosecurity for Global Partnership”

Kelsey Davenport writes in the latest edition of Arms Control Today that, “Germany plans to prioritize biological security during its year-long presidency of the Global Partnership Against the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction.” Her article explains recent presidents’ efforts and priorities while leading the Global Partnership and how Rüdiger Bohn, the German deputy commissioner for arms control and disarmament, plans to tackle major challenges moving forward.

CBRNe World June Issue

The latest edition of CBRNe World includes a number of interesting articles, including “Lies, Damned Lies and Russia Statistics: Robert Petersen on the Disinformation Campaign,” “Crimes Against History: Historical CW Crimes in Soviet Russia,” “The Monkeypox Prophecy: Zoe Rutherford on the Current Epidemic,” and “Quality of Life: Dr Faraidoun Moradi on Life After Sarin.” A free basic subscription to the magazine is available on its website.

“Strengthening the Global Bioeconomy to Sidestep the Next Pandemic”

Wilmot James and Lewis Rubin-Thomspon write in BusinessDay about what it will take to overhaul the bioeconomy and improve pandemic preparedness, writing “In a world that feels increasingly post-pandemic, the reality is that another pathogen more deadly and infectious than Sars-CoV-2 could arise at any time. To break a historic cycle of “panic-and-neglect” in health security, the time to bolster our ability to detect and respond to such biological threats is now.” They argue that the results of a poorly functioning global bioeconomy were on display early in the pandemic as countries failed to use or lacked existing laboratory and healthcare infrastructure, and that “…decades of progress in biotechnology and the streamlining of R&D processes helped compensate for early shortcomings of the global response, demonstrating the importance of investment in preventive infrastructure.”

Virtual Course: Combating Transnational Organized Crime and Illicit Trade: A Focus on the Americas

The Schar School’s Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center is partnering with UPEACE to offer this week-long course. The course aims to improve students’ comprehension of the dynamics of transnational organized crime, focusing on money laundering, corruption, illicit trade, security, free trade zones, state fragility, and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (Agenda 2030).

The main objective of the course is to identify how different types of crime impact the capacity of the state to manage and mitigate internal and external threats. The course will also push participants to think about organized crime from a more nuanced perspective, specifically as an aspect of social conflict, emphasizing that the challenges for promoting peace are embedded in local, regional, and global contexts.

The 1-week innovative certificate course will take place virtually from the 22nd to the 26th of August 2022 and has a fee of $200 USD. Learn more and register here.

International One Health Conference- A Systemic Approach to Managing Urban and Natural Resources

The University of Catania is hosting this conference on September 27-28, 2022. The conference will be held in hybrid form, with 1/2 days to share and debate on experiences of systemic approaches to One Health and visions for a better systemic approach to managing urban and natural resources. “The conference aims to activate synergic dialogues among disciplinary research fields and action domains among researchers, experts and students. The One Health conceptual framework and the possible contribution from the One Health approach in the urban resilience capacities enhancement will be the core of the congress dialogues.” Learn more and register here.

Strengthening Private Public Partnerships in Pandemic Preparedness for National Security and Economic Competitiveness

Join the Capitol Hill Steering Committee on Pandemic Preparedness and Health Security for a webinar, Strengthening Private Public Partnerships in Pandemic Preparedness for National Security and Economic Competitiveness, on Wednesday, July 20, at 12pm (ET). Register here.

The country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic led to new public-private partnerships (PPPs) that drove the development of new medical countermeasures and bolstered domestic manufacturing capacity for medical products. This session will highlight the key components of what is necessary to incentivize, facilitate, and sustain effective PPPs for innovation to bolster pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response; what Congress can do to support and leverage such partnerships, the role of the appropriations process; and how the US can be better positioned in the global economy through increased investments in PPPs in the areas of health security and advanced life science.

The Mold That Changed the World– Popular UK Play Comes to the US Fall 2022

The Mould That Changed the World, a UK show that tells the story of the discovery of antibiotics and the risks of antibiotic use, is headed to Washington DC and Atlanta this fall, appropriately re-titled “The Mold That Changed the World” for us Americans. Learn more, buy tickets, and even audition here.

Biointelligence and Biosecurity for the Intelligence Community Seedling Research Topic – Broad Agency Announcement

ODNI’s Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) recently announced Naval Information Warfare Center, Pacific, on behalf of IARPA, is soliciting proposals under a broad agency announcement for the Biointelligence and Biosecurity for the Intelligence Community (B24IC) program’s Seedling Research Topic. The B24IC program “…seeks to develop new capabilities, matching the wider synthetic biology and biotechnology fields, ensuring the Intelligence Community’s (IC’s) capability to meet the biointelligence and biosecurity threats of the 21st century.” Learn more about the solicitation on SAM.gov.

Russian WMD Disinformation Resources

We are currently working on creating a searchable collection of resources on Russian WMD disinformation on the Pandora Report site. The page is a work in progress, and currently just lists resources we have highlighted in the past. In the meantime, here are some recent updates and works on the topic:

Russia Finds Another Stage for the Ukraine “Biolabs” Disinformation Show”

Dr. Filippa Lentzos and Jez Littlewood discuss Russia’s triggering of Article V of the BWC, forcing the 184 member states to hold a special summer session to hear Russia’s claims about illegal US “biolabs” and the United States’ response. Read more on the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

“Lies, Damned Lies and Russian Statistics”

Robert Petersen, an analyst at Denmark’s Centre for Biosecurity and Biopreparedness, authored this piece for CBRNe World comparing and discussing Russia’s historical and current disinformation campaigns, arguing that the current effort has utterly failed “to sow discord among US allies, prevent support to Ukraine and legitimise the Russian invasion.” However, he also writes, “On the other hand, the campaign has managed to persuade a quarter of the American public that the US military has been developing biological weapons across Ukraine”

“Fact Sheet on WMD Threat Reduction Efforts with Ukraine, Russia and Other Former Soviet Union Countries”

The Department of Defense recently released this fact sheet covering the history and accomplishments of US collaboration with the international community to reduce WMD threats in Ukraine, Russia, and other countries who were formerly part of the USSR. It provides a comprehensive yet concise timeline of efforts, including the Nunn-Lugar CTR program, and discusses efforts by Russia and China to undermine these immense accomplishments today to further their agendas.

Schar School Applications Open- Deadline July 15

The Biodefense program is accepting Fall 2022 applications for our MS and graduate certificate program through July 15. Learn more about our admissions process and apply here.

Pandora Report: 7.8.2022

This week starts with some exciting updates from our faculty and alumni, including new legislation in the Senate and a faculty award. We also include updates on COVID-19 in North Korea, suspected Marburg cases in Ghana, and NATO’s new CBRN defense policy. As always, there are plenty of new publications and upcoming events included too. Happy Friday and end to what has been a very interesting week globally!

Bipartisan Offices of Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction and Health Security Act Introduced in Senate

US Senators Rob Portman and Gary Peters have introduced the bipartisan Offices of Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction and Health Security Act to “significantly enhance the federal government’s ability to detect, recognize, and evaluate threats from weapons of mass destruction, which include chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) weapons. The bill would reauthorize the Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction (CWMD) office, which leads the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) effort to safeguard the country from CBRN threats. The legislation would also authorize the new Office of Health Security (OHS) that ensures DHS can better address public health and medical related security threats across the Department – including assisting with medical care in the event of potential attacks from CBRN weapons.” 

Biodefense Program faculty member Dr. Ashley Grant, a lead biotechnologist at the MITRE Corporation and Brooking LEGIS Congressional Fellow, helped produce this bill.

Biodefense Program Alumnus Wins Faculty Award

Dr. Keith Ludwick (Biodefense PhD, 2016) recently received American Military University’s 2022 Graduate Excellence in Teaching Award. Dr. Ludwick currently serves as an Associate professor at American Military University teaching a variety of courses surrounding technology, intelligence, and national security in their Doctorate of Strategic Studies Program.  In addition, he serves on several dissertation committees.

USCG Academy Offers Soon-to-Be Ensigns CBRN Training

The US Coast Guard Academy recently offered senior cadets “Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) training as part of a pilot program organized by the Coast Guard Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction (CWMD) Program in the Office of Specialized Capabilities (CG-721). This training was the inaugural offering to senior class cadets before they enter the fleet to their first assignments as commissioned officers. The cadets participated in online training and then underwent a practical training scenario offered by the Special Missions Training Center (SMTC). As the threat of CBRN incidents increase, it is critical to train and raise awareness for our future leaders.”  

Dr. Jennifer Osetek, a Biodefense PhD alumna working as the Office of Specialized Capabilities CWMD Program’s biological and chemical weapons SME, wrote this blog post on the training.

North Korea Blames “Alien Things” and Balloons for Introducing COVID-19 in the Country

Rodong Sinmun, the official paper of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, recently claimed that COVID-19 spread into North Korea via “alien things coming by wind” and “other climate phenomena and balloons,” first infecting a soldier and young student near the border with South Korea. KCNA and other outlets referenced these balloons and, though they did not explicitly name North Korean defectors and other activist groups in the South in doing so, these are the groups that normally send balloons over the border into North Korea. The first time they did so this year was in April, well before the North admitted it was in the midst of an outbreak in mid-May. NK News writes, “The country’s epidemic headquarters called for officials to “strengthen the all-people supervision and report system in which anyone notifies of alien things instantly after seeing them, and tighten such anti-epidemic measures as making the emergency anti-epidemic teams strictly remove those things.” North Korea is currently reporting nearly 5 million cases with just 74 deaths. South Korea’s Ministry of Unification rejected this claim entirely.

Rodong Sinmun reports 1,630 “fever” cases and 2,060 recoveries today. It says the country’s total sits at 4,763,360 cases with 4,760,170 (99.933%) recoveries and 3,110 (0.065%) receiving medical treatment.

On a related note – In early June, officials in Dandong, a Chinese city near the border with North Korea that was locked down at the time, were unable to determine where an outbreak came from and announced they believed COVID-19 blew over the border into the city. China also claimed that the Omicron variant entered the country via a piece of Canadian mail early this year, so there is no shortage of far-fetched claims in this region either.

NATO Updates CBRN Defense Policy

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization recently updated its CBRN defense policy, replacing the Comprehensive, Strategic-Level Policy for Preventing the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) and Defending against Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Threats with its Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Defence Policy. The latter now supersedes the former and reads in part, “NATO’s security environment has grown more complex and challenging since 2009, when Allies agreed NATO’s Comprehensive, Strategic-Level Policy for Preventing the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) and Defending against Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Threats. That Policy has served as a cornerstone of Allied security and stability for thirteen years. Today, we face a world in which the potential use of CBRN materials or WMD by state and non-state actors remains a central and evolving threat to Allied security. It is a world in which NATO increasingly cannot assume that the international norms and institutions related to the proliferation or use of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) will ensure our security, and in which scientific and technological innovation and other emerging trends have accentuated CBRN risks to the Alliance.”

Suspected Marburg Cases Reported in Ghana

Ghana has reported its first ever cases of Marburg virus disease, according to the WHO, in two patients in the Ashanti region. The patients are now deceased and were unrelated. Their samples were taken by Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research and were provided to the Institut Pasteur in Senegal, a World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Centre for confirmation. According to WHO, “WHO is deploying experts to support Ghana’s health authorities by bolstering disease surveillance, testing, tracing contacts, preparing to treat patients and working with communities to alert and educate them about the risks and dangers of the disease and to collaborate with the emergency response teams.”

World Bank Board Approves New Fund for Pandemic Prevention, Preparedness and Response (PPR)

The World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors announced recently the “…establishment of a financial intermediary fund (FIF) that will finance critical investments to strengthen pandemic PPR capacities at national, regional, and global levels, with a focus on low- and middle-income countries. The fund will bring additional, dedicated resources for PPR, incentivize countries to increase investments, enhance coordination among partners, and serve as a platform for advocacy. The FIF will complement the financing and technical support provided by the World Bank, leverage the strong technical expertise of WHO, and engage other key organizations.” Read more about this FIF on the World Bank’s fact sheet for it, including the potential for use to support One Health activities.

Countering WMD Journal Spring/Summer 2022 Edition Out

The US Army Nuclear and Countering WMD Agency’s newest edition of the Countering WMD Journal is available online now. This issue includes articles ranging from “The Army’s Place on the Nuclear Battlefield” to “Targeting Al Shifa: Explaining an Intelligence Failure” and “The Unknown Unknowns of Paleovirus Hunting”.

“A World Emerging from Pandemic: Implications for Intelligence and National Security”

This paper from the US National Intelligence University and DoD’s Strategic Multilayer Assessment program was recently released and is available here.

“This edited volume explores how the COVID pandemic has impacted—and will continue to impact—the US Intelligence Community. Authors from multiple disciplines probe the ways in which pandemic-associated conditions interact with national security problem sets. This work presents evidence-based, qualitative, quantitative, and mixed-methods analyses so their projections can be tested against future conditions. This project is the result of a cooperative effort between National Intelligence University and the Pentagon’s Joint Staff Strategic Multilayer Assessment office.”

“The G7 Summit’s Geopolitical Pivot Signals a Difficult Future for Global Health”

David P. Fidler’s article in Think Global Health discusses how war in Europe and shifts in the global power balance overshadowed global health at this year’s G7, despite pre-summit meetings and the leaders’ communique identifying numerous global health threats. Fidler also discusses issues like G7 countries’ being “…unlikely to generate ideological benefits by providing climate adaptation assistance because they bear great responsibility for causing climate change.” He writes, “China and Russia turned the geopolitical tables on democracies despite decades of global health leadership by G7 countries. That reality sends a warning that such leadership does not produce balance-of-power or ideological benefits for democracies. Nor did those decades of global health leadership make the G7 democracies reliable partners concerning the two greatest transnational threats to global health—pandemics and climate change.”

“NTI-WEF Technical Consortium for DNA Synthesis Screening Comments on Revised U.S. Government Guidance”

The Technical Consortium for DNA Synthesis Screening, convened by the Nuclear Threat Initiative and the World Economic Forum, recently responded to the US government’s request for comment on its Revised Screening Framework Guidance for Providers and Users of Synthetic Oligonucleotides—fragments of DNA or RNA. The government’s Revised Guidance was published in April 2022 as an update to the influential guidance initially established in 2010 that set standards for screening customers and DNA sequences for synthetic DNA orders. NTI explains, “The Technical Consortium’s comment—signed by leading technical and policy experts from biotechnology industry, the academic research community, and the biosecurity community—expresses support for many aspects of the Revised Guidance, noting “[we] applaud the U.S. government for releasing this Revised Guidance and opening an important, valuable discussion on these challenging topics.” The comment recommends a dual-track strategy to expand biosecurity screening practices to providers who don’t currently screen and improve such practices among responsible providers.”

“Healthier Ecosystem and Food Systems in East Asia and Pacific Can Reduce Global Pandemic Risks”

Benoît Bosquet, Sitaramachandra Machiraju, and Daniel Mira-salama recently authored this World Bank blog post discussing One Health and how improvements in food system practices can help prevent future pandemics. They write, “East Asia and Southeast Asia have large and densely concentrated human settlements, high livestock populations, and abundant wildlife. Rapid urbanization and agricultural expansion are leading to encroachment into wilderness areas, increasing the likelihood of pathogen spillover between humans and wild animals. These factors along with climate change are increasing the possibility of transmission of both zoonotic and vector-borne diseases. Consequently, many EAP countries are at a high risk of zoonotic outbreaks. Increasing domestic and wildlife trade in the region, deforestation and ecosystem degradation, together with inadequate livestock biosecurity and food hygiene practices, represent additional risk factors.”

The blog post accompanies two report, “From Reacting to Preventing Pandemics: Building Animal Health and Wildlife Systems in East Asia and Pacific” and “Reducing pandemic risks at source: Wildlife, Environment and One Health Foundations in East and South Asia“.

“How Pfizer Won the Pandemic, Reaping Outsize Profit and Influence”

Arthur Allen discusses how Pfizer came to gain substantial weigh in determining US health policy in developing COVID-19 vaccines and antivirals in this new article in Kaiser Health News. He writes in part, “Pfizer’s terms in the contracts exclude many taxpayer protections. They deny the government any intellectual property rights and say that federal spending played no role in the vaccine’s development — even though National Institutes of Health scientists invented a key feature of Pfizer’s vaccine, said Robin Feldman, a patent law expert at the University of California.” He also explains that, “Pfizer’s 2021 revenue was $81.3 billion, roughly double its revenue in 2020, when its top sellers were a pneumonia vaccine, the cancer drug Ibrance, and the fibromyalgia treatment Lyrica, which had gone off-patent. Now its mRNA vaccine holds 70% of the U.S. and European markets. And its antiviral Paxlovid is the pill of choice to treat early symptoms of covid. This year, the company expects to rake in more than $50 billion in global revenue from the two medications alone.”

TEXGHS: Monkeypox and the Western Media’s Portrayal of Infectious Disease

Join TEXGHS for their free monthly lecture series, featuring public health physician & global health thought leader Dr. Ifeanyi Nsofor on July 12 at 12 pm CDT. Global health is colonial in its origin. This colonial nature is reflected in skewed leadership of global health organizations favoring the global north. It is also reflected in the way some western media outlets paint the African continent: as a disease-ridden continent (or country) incapable of helping itself. This bias reporting must stop in the interest of both global north and global south.

Strengthening Private Public Partnerships in Pandemic Preparedness for National Security and Economic Competitiveness

Join the Capitol Hill Steering Committee on Pandemic Preparedness and Health Security for a webinar, Strengthening Private Public Partnerships in Pandemic Preparedness for National Security and Economic Competitiveness, on Wednesday, July 20, at 12pm (ET). Register here.

The country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic led to new public-private partnerships (PPPs) that drove the development of new medical countermeasures and bolstered domestic manufacturing capacity for medical products. This session will highlight the key components of what is necessary to incentivize, facilitate, and sustain effective PPPs for innovation to bolster pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response; what Congress can do to support and leverage such partnerships, the role of the appropriations process; and how the US can be better positioned in the global economy through increased investments in PPPs in the areas of health security and advanced life science.

Russian WMD Disinformation Resources

We are currently working on creating a searchable collection of resources on Russian WMD disinformation on the Pandora Report site. The page is a work in progress, and currently just lists resources we have highlighted in the past. In the meantime, here are some recent updates and works on the topic:

“Russian Disinformation Finds Fertile Ground in the West”

Ilya Yablokov’s June article in Nature Human Behaviour discusses potential methods for tackling Russian disinformation in the West. 

Recording- The History and Future of Planetary Threats | Biological Risks and Hazards in the World Today- with Special Focus on Russia and Ukraine

A panel of experts, including our own Dr. Gregory Koblentz, discussed evolving biological risks, the health security environment in post-Soviet states, and the biological risks posed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine- including those associated with Russia’s disinformation campaign at this event in May! Access the event recording here.

“A Perspective on Russian Cyberattacks and Disinformation”

Glenn Gerstell, a senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and former general counsel of the National Security Agency, was interviewed at a Wall Street Journal event in San Francisco in front of a live audience. The discussion focused on Russian cyberattacks against Ukraine and Russia’s use of disinformation. Highlights of the discussion are available here.

“Fact Sheet on WMD Threat Reduction Efforts with Ukraine, Russia and Other Former Soviet Union Countries”

The Department of Defense recently released this fact sheet covering the history and accomplishments of US collaboration with the international community to reduce WMD threats in Ukraine, Russia, and other countries who were formerly part of the USSR. It provides a comprehensive yet concise timeline of efforts, including the Nunn-Lugar CTR program, and discusses efforts by Russia and China to undermine these immense accomplishments today to further their agendas.

Schar School Applications Open- Deadline July 15

The Biodefense program is accepting Fall 2022 applications for our MS and graduate certificate program through July 15. Learn more about our admissions process and apply here.

Pandora Report 3.7.14

Editor’s note: Greetings Pandora Report subscribers! I hope you enjoyed that goofy video last week. For my first official Pandora Report, I rounded up some great stories (including a look back at history. As a social scientist, I really couldn’t help myself!)

Highlights include Botulism research and development, CDC antibiotic warning, the Nazi insect weapons program, and Marburg. Happy Friday!

Hawaii Biotech awarded $5.5M contract to develop anti-botulism drugs

Hawaii Biotech Inc. received a $5.5 million contract from the Department of Defense to continue development of drugs to treat botulinum toxin—a life threatening disease which currently has no known treatment. This grant was in addition to an existing $7.4 million grant held by Hawaii Biotech to develop anti-anthrax drugs.

Pacific Business News – “Under the contract, Hawaii Biotech will be working to improve its current anti-botulinum toxin inhibitor drug candidates that have demonstrated activity in pre-clinical testing with the goal of enhancing the stability, bioavailability and safety of these drug candidates so they can be used in humans.”

CDC: Antibiotic Overuse Can Be Lethal

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report Tuesday criticizing the overuse of antibiotics in hospitals and the consequences of these actions. Though prescribing practices vary between hospitals and doctors, the report highlights discrepancies across patients with similar symptoms and illnesses and urges caution in use of powerful antibiotics.

The Wall Street Journal – “Overprescribing antibiotics is making many of these drugs less effective because superbugs resistant to them are developing so fast. The practice also can sicken patients, by making them vulnerable to other types of infections such as Clostridium difficile, a bacterial infection.”

Nazi scientists planned to use mosquitoes as biological weapon

In 1942, Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS, ordered the creation of an entomological institute at the Dachau concentration camp. But why? Supposedly it was to study lice, fleas, and similar pests that were causing problems for German soldiers. However, a recent report offers an additional answer.

The Guardian – “In 1944, scientists examined different types of mosquitoes for their life spans in order to establish whether they could be kept alive long enough to be transported from a breeding lab to a drop-off point. At the end of the trials, the director of the institute recommended a particular type of anopheles mosquito, a genus well-known for its capacity to transmit malaria to humans.

With Germany having signed up to the 1925 Geneva protocol, Adolf Hitler had officially ruled out the use of biological and chemical weapons during the Second World War, as had allied forces. Research into the mosquito project had to be carried out in secret.”

Army one step closer to treatment against deadly Marburg virus

Exciting news, this week, regarding the development of a drug which may be able to prevent Marburg hemorrhagic fever virus from replicating in animals. The drug, BCX4430, was developed in partnership with BioCryst Pharmaceuticals Inc. through a grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

The Frederick News-Post – “‘The drug works by using a compound that “tricks” the virus during the RNA replication process by mimicking it,’ said Travis Warren, [a principal researcher at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick.] ‘Once the virus incorporates BCX4430 into its RNA, the virus is forced to end further replication. If the virus can’t effectively replicate its RNA genome, it can’t produce more infectious virus. It has no other options than to end that replication cycle.’”

(image courtesy of CDC/ James Gathany)

The Pandora Report 9.27.13

Highlights include MERS, more MERS, Marburg & Ebola, chemical weapons antidotes, universal vaccine. Happy Friday!

Saudi Efforts to Stop MERS Virus Faulted

Saudi Arabia is being accused both of withholding information and conducting incomplete epidemiological investigations on MERS. While health officials have been careful to collect as much information as possible from infected individuals, they have been accused of neglecting to interview healthy contacts of infected patients. Such interviews are critical to determining possible routes of transmission. Saudi officials have vehemently denied these accusations, arguing it’s impossible to withhold what they don’t know.

Wall Street Journal – “‘It’s very difficult to give all the details to the people when we don’t know all the details,’ Ziad Memish, the deputy health minister, said last week at his office in Riyadh, the Saudi capital. ‘”Where’s it coming from? We don’t know. How is it transmitted? We don’t know.'”

Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome Update

Speaking of MERS, the CDC has updated its epi information on the virus. According to this week’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, there are now 130 cases, of which 45% of were fatal. While cases have occured in eight countries, all infected patients had recently visited or resided in just four countries – Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. Also of note, just over a fifth of cases (21%) were asymptomatic. No new information on mvectors, reservoirs, or route of infection.

CDC –  “To date, the largest, most complete clinical case series published included 47 patients; most had fever (98%), cough (83%), and shortness of breath (72%). Many also had gastrointestinal symptoms (26% had diarrhea, and 21% had vomiting). All but two patients (96%) had one or more chronic medical conditions, including diabetes (68%), hypertension (34%), heart disease (28%), and kidney disease (49%). Thirty-four (72%) had more than one chronic condition (7). Nearly half the patients in this series were part of a health-care–associated outbreak in Al-Ahsa, Saudi Arabia (i.e., a population that would be expected to have high rates of underlying conditions) (8). Also, the prevalence of diabetes in persons aged ≥50 years in Saudi Arabia has been reported to be nearly 63% (9). It remains unclear whether persons with specific conditions are disproportionately infected with MERS-CoV or have more severe disease.”

New Marburg & Ebola Theraputics?

Tekmira Pharmaceuticals Corporation has developed a Marburg treatment which protects non-human primates from the virus completely (100%), even if administered 24 hours after post infection. This is very exciting. The company has also received funding to undertake a similar Ebola treatment, with Phase I clinical trials set to begin early next year.

Street Insider – “In a presentation entitled ‘Medical Countermeasures for Filovirus Infection: Development of siRNA Therapeutics Under the Animal Rule’ data were presented that showed successful anti-viral therapy with the application of Tekmira’s LNP technology to hemorrhagic fever viruses, including multiple strains of the Ebola and Marburg viruses. Newly presented data resulting from a collaboration between Tekmira and the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) showed 100% survival in non-human primates infected with the Angola strain of the Marburg virus in two separate studies. In the first study, 100% survival was achieved when dosing at 0.5 mg/kg TKM-Marburg began one hour after infection with otherwise lethal quantities of the virus. Dosing then continued once daily for seven days. In the second study, 100% survival was achieved even though treatment did not begin until 24 hours after infection.

Scientists at UNC-Chapel Hill, Wake Forest work on antidotes to nerve gas

The Defense Threat Reduction Agency has awareded UNC-Chapel Hill a $4.47 million grant to develop antidotes to nerve gas. While the timing of the award may seem a little reactionary, apparently discussions on the project began over a year ago. Researchers are hoping to create an adhesive bandage, pre-loaded with the antidote which would be administered through tiny needles in the bandage itself. The advantage of a bandage over an injected serum is self-administration – no medical professional would be needed to administer it.

Charlotte Observer – “‘We can load them up with antidotes to nerve agent, including enzymes that combat nerve agent,’DeSimone [a professor of chemistry at UNC-CH and chemical engineering] said. ‘The idea was to put them directly into a dissolvable microneedle that’s painless – just a patch – and rapidly get them into the bloodstream’ Such a device could be used by the military or civilians during an attack, when poison gas can kill within minutes. The patch could be easily disseminated and transported, DeSimone said, and would have a long shelf life.

Researchers Move Step Closer to Universal Seasonal Flu Vaccine

It’s nearly flu season again, and for many of us that means shots. For scientists, it means hoping their predictions as to which strain of flu will strike are right, and that the vaccine in the shots is actually useful. Making things easier for everyone, scientists at the Imperial College of London have determined a “blueprint” for a single vaccine against all types of influenza. Scientists there have found that by boosting CD8 killer T cells, rather than trying to trigger antibody production, the vaccines are significantly more effective.

Voice of America – “’Such a vaccine would induce T cells that would be able to recognize new viruses that have not even been identified yet. In other words, future pandemic strains. In that sense, it’s a universal vaccine. And it will be different to existing vaccination where currently every year a new vaccine has to be developed, which is why we are always one step behind…'”

(image courtesy of CIDRAP)