BioWeapons Prevention Project

BioWeapons Prevention Project
Civil society preparations for the 7th BWC Review Conference 2011 The Authors

What do we need to educate life scientists about, and how do we do this?

Simon Whitby - "Twelve theses on biosecurity education" - 23 May 2011 ↓expand↓

Much of our work at Bradford over recent years has been concerned with awareness-raising and education of life scientists. This has led us to certain conclusions that are set out below in Part A. It has also led us to raise a number of questions. Some of these are set out in Part B. We hope that by keeping our contribution concise it will make discussion of particular points more productive.

Part A: Twelve theses on biosecurity education
  1. Article I of the BTWC prohibits all but the peaceful uses of the life sciences, but in order to help achieve this Article IV requires that national measures are implemented to prohibit and prevent what is banned in Article I.
  2. Since the Second Review Conference of 1986 it has been clear that prevention requires that life scientists are aware and educated about the Convention and their responsibilities under the Convention.
  3. It is highly unlikely that effective codes of conduct and oversight systems for dual-use research and publications can be successful without an aware and educated life science community.
  4. Most life scientists today are largely unaware of the history of the hostile misuse of the life sciences, or of the 1925 Geneva Convention and the BTWC, which form the core of the web of preventive policies designed to prevent such hostile misuse.
  5. This widespread ignorance of the Convention results from the fact that very few life scientists receive any information on the history of the hostile misuse of the life sciences, or of the growth of the prohibition regime, in their university education.
  6. It is possible to raise awareness and encourage engagement of the life science community in support of the prohibition regime, for example through the use of the Exeter University interactive biosecurity seminars. (Dando, M.R., and Rappert, B. (2005) Codes of Conduct for the Life Sciences: Some Insights from UK Academia, Bradford Briefing Paper No. 16, University of Bradford, May 2005)
  7. It is also possible to design material – for example the Japan National Defence Medical College/Bradford University Education Module Resource (EMR) – that can be used in university life science courses to help correct the educational deficit of life scientists. (Education Module Resource) However, it is also necessary to support initiatives like the open source EMR with Train-the-Trainer programmes and country-specific short lecture courses derived from the EMR.
  8. Education about dual-use issues is best introduced as an example of a bioethics problem as life scientists are familiar with other bioethical issues, but the education programme has to be broader than just dual-use for the wider concerns about the hostile misuse of the life sciences to be properly understood.
  9. It is unlikely that a purely philosophical approach to dual-use bioethics will be easily understood by life scientists. It is much easier for them if the dual-use issue is treated as an aspect of the responsible conduct of research.
  10. Civil Society “bottom-up” activities, such as the Exeter interactive seminars, the EMR and Train-the-Trainer programmes, so far developed can illustrate what can be done, but a major change in the understanding of biosecurity issues amongst life scientists – and therefore effective implementation of Article IV – will require concerted “top-down” action by State Parties to the BTWC at the Seventh Review Conference. This State-level action is urgent as the revolution in the life sciences is certain to increase the possibilities of the hostile misuse of benignly-intended work in the life sciences.
  11. 11. At the Review Conference in December 2011, State Parties should therefore agree that, while “one-size-fits–all” does not apply, the educational initiatives agreed to be of value in 2008 (Report of the 2008 Meeting of the BWC States Parties) should be implemented by all States Parties and the actions undertaken reported back annually under CBM E (Review and Update of the CBMs) in order that best practice in awareness-raising and education can quickly be developed worldwide.

Part B: Questions for further consideration
  1. Do life scientists have a responsibility to ensure that their research is not misused?
  2. Is current training in, and are measures relating to laboratory biosafety and laboratory biosecurity sufficient in ensuring that due ethical consideration is applied in the case of dual-use life science experiments of ‘concern’?
  3. Are life science principle investigators aware of their obligations under national and international legislation relating to the prohibition of biological warfare?
  4. Are dual-use biosecurity concerns reflected in institutional biosafety reviews and professional codes of conduct, ethics, practice? If not, is this a problem?
  5. Can wider biosecurity concerns and dual-use bioethics be assimilated into current biosafety and bioethics training modules in higher education, how might this be best done, will this improve deterrence against the potential misuse of life science, or can misuse be better mitigated by alternative means?


Jo L. Husbands - "Opportunities for the 7th Review Conference to support education for life scientists" - 6 June 2011 ↓expand↓

In late 2009 a group of national and international scientific organizations held a workshop at the Polish Academy of Sciences to discuss the current state of education about dual use issues in the life sciences. The findings of the workshop were similar to many of the points that Simon Whitby makes in his introduction to this discussion about the general lack of education for life scientists regarding (1) national and international laws and regulations governing the conduct of life sciences research and (2) the particular concern that advances in research could yield knowledge, tools, or techniques that could be misused for bioterrorism or the development of new or more deadly biological weapons. The final report (link), while noting the gaps, also identifies substantial progress in recent years, thanks in large measure to efforts by groups like the Bradford Disarmament Research Center and its international colleagues. New education projects, mostly independent but some with support from governments, have emerged in many parts of the world, far beyond just the United States and Europe. Most of these are taking place as part of a more general education about responsible conduct of research, as part of biosafety training, or within bioethics.

The report identifies a number of needs that must be met to build on these encouraging developments and increase the availability of education:
  • Access to effective materials, to materials relevant to diverse audiences, and to materials in languages other than English.
  • More faculty/instructors prepared to teach about the issues who are aware of the most effective approaches to teaching, and more opportunities for them to receive such preparation.
  • Standards for designing and assessing courses/modules/materials and networks to share best practices and lessons learned.
  • Resources and priority for including such education as part of training for life scientists and “champions” to help achieve this.

The report concludes that there are opportunities to expand education if resources and support to meet these needs are made available and that there are important roles for international organizations, for funding bodies, for academies and unions, and for professional societies in promoting education. With regard to this discussion, the report concludes that adding a measure of “top down” support from governments appropriate to the widely varying national contexts will be essential if the “bottom up” efforts are to achieve the necessary scope and scale to have an impact. The upcoming 7th review conference “will provide an obvious opportunity for member states to build on prior work and take affirmative steps in support of education” (p.8).

So far this brief piece has focused on specific needs and practical steps and what the States Parties could contribute to achieve them. To continue the discussion, I want to close by raising the question of whether, for most of the life sciences community, the BWC should be presented as the foundation of a legal regime or as the embodiment of an international norm against the use of disease as weapon? It is both and can be presented as such, but in our ongoing discussions and activities related to education, we often find a preference for emphasizing responsibilities rather than requirements in creating the foundations for responsible conduct. This also allows the issues to be embedded in the broader context of the social responsibility of science and norms regarding other aspects of scientific research. I look forward to comments and suggestions about what the most appropriate mix should be.


Anwar Nasim - "Biosafety and Biosecurity Initiatives taken in Pakistan" - 9 June 2011 ↓expand↓

Biosafety and Besecurity is a serious challenge to all countries. For a developing country like Pakistan it is of extreme important to remain in touch with the global community and also keep up with recent updates and information in this area.

Realizing the importance, Pakistan and related organizations in the country remain in close interraction with International Working Group (IWC) and Landau Network-Centro Volta (LNCV) and participated actively in all meetings related to BWC held in Geneva. Following figure shows Pakistan’s partnerships with international organizations.

The extent of national commitment towards the cause of biorisk management can be assessed by role of variously newly established national bodies and well established private and national Universities in Pakistan. These include:
  1. National Commission on Biotechnology (NCB)
  2. National Core Group on Life Sciences (NCGL)
  3. Inter-Agency Task Force, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Govt of Pakistan
  4. Pakistan Biological Safety Association (PBSA)
  5. Pakistan Biotechnology Information Centre (PABIC)
  6. OIC ministerial standing committee on scientific and technological cooperation (COMSTECH)
  7. Quaid-e-Azam University
  8. Aga Khan University

Some of the objectives of these organizations are:

  1. Provision of comprehensive knowledge related to biosafety issues in Pakistan
  2. Formulate guidelines for risk assessments, use of safety equipment and containment facility safeguards
  3. Teacher training, Curriculum Development, Researcher Industry Interaction, Distant Learning, Biosafety and Biosecurity
  4. Developing a strong regular program on dual use
  5. To promote biotechnology research and prepare biotechnology action plan
  6. Capacity development leading to formulation of National frame work for Biorisk Management in Pakistan

This has been done in close collaboration with International Council for Life Sciences (ICLS). Department of biotechnology and bioinformatics of Quaid-e-Azam University (QAU) has launched a project “Engagement & awareness raising on bioethics, biosecurity and dual use education project 2011-12” in close collaboration with LNCV and BEP-State Department, USA. Under this project QAU organized international consultative workshop on educational material on bioethics, biosafety, bioseurity and dual use education with collaboration of LNCV and BEP-State department & Sandia National Laboratories USA on 24th May, 2011. Similarly, master trainers program leading to development of national Biosafety training centre is being envisaged as a joint project of Aga Khan University and Sandia National Laboratories. The project will impart the training to the scientist and will lead to capacity development for biorisk management in the country.

Realizing the importance of the subject Disarmament Division at Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) established an Inter-Agency Task Force on Regulation of Biosciences & Technology, with representation from all concerned stakeholders. This Task Force has drafted guidelines for the development of code of conduct for the life scientists and translated these guidelines into national language Urdu. These guidelines act as national model and can be utilized at the institutional level according to the specific requirements. The Inter-Agency Task Force meets regularly to review all issues.

Pakistan is taking the responsibility of ensuring conduct of responsible science and some organizations have taken a lead role to link the research organization for an oversight on the research activities of life sciences. For example, Fig. II explains link of all education institutes with Higher Education Commission (HEC) of Pakistan.

OIC ministerial standing committee on scientific and technological cooperation (COMSTECH) has organized two workshops on “Conduct of Responsible Science” in collaboration with ICLS. COMSTECH has planned to conduct a series of workshops and training courses during 2011-12 on different fields of science and technology out of which five are on biosecurity, biosafety and biotechnology.

This current exercise is obviously of great interest of Pakistan. We would like to further link with all those organizations which are working in this field of study to acquire latest information.


    Simon Whitby

    Simon Whitby is Director of Bradford Disarmament Research Centre, Division of Peace Studies, School of Social and International Studies, University of Bradford, UK. His research interests are in the area of biological non-proliferation, dual-use biosecurity and dual-use bioethics. He is responsible for oversight of the implementation of BDRC project obligations, finance, funding, staffing, reporting requirements and capacity-building; and, the development and expansion of BDRC academic and policy-oriented research. Whitby teaches biological non-proliferation and currently delivers online distance learning in dual-use bioethics / biosecurity education.

    Jo L. Husbands

    Jo L. Husbands is a Scholar/Senior Project Director with the Board on Life Sciences of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS), where she manages studies and projects to help mitigate the risks of the misuse of scientific research for biological weapons or bioterrorism. She represents the NAS on the Biosecurity Working Group of IAP: The Global Network of Science Academies, which also includes the academies of China, Cuba, Nigeria, Poland (chair) and the United Kingdom. From 1991-2005 she was Director of the NAS Committee on International Security and Arms Control (CISAC) and its Working Group on Biological Weapons Control. Dr. Husbands is also an adjunct professor in the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University, where she teaches a course on the International Arms Trade, and a Fellow of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry. She holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Minnesota and a Masters in International Public Policy (International Economics) from the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.

    Katsuhisa Furukawa

    Research Institute of Science and Technology for Society, Japan
    More to follow soon.

    Anwar Nasim

    Prof. Nasim obtained his MSc in Botany from the University of Punjab, Pakistan, 1957, and his PhD in Biochemical Genetics from the University of Edinburgh, UK, in 1966. After 25 years of work experience in Canada, he was appointed Advisor (Science), COMSTECH, in August 1996, after working for two years as Executive Secretary, Pakistan Academy of Sciences. He also serves as Chairman of the Inter-Agency Task Force on regulation of bioscience and technology, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, of Pakistan.

    Leonid Ryabikhin

    Committee of Scientists for Global Security, Russia
    More to follow soon.