The Government has today (12 June 2023) published its new UK Biological Security Strategy, which refreshes the 2018 strategy in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic – the 2018 publication itself was in part a response to the Salisbury attack. This publication is a welcome update on the Government’s work to protect the UK from biological threats and sets out a coherent vision for how the UK will work to prevent, detect, and respond to biological threats, both domestically and internationally, to the tune of £1.5bn spending per year.
The strategy acknowledges that the UK faces a range of biological threats, including future infectious disease outbreaks, antimicrobial resistance, accidental releases of pathogens, and deliberate biological attacks. In response, it sets out a four-pillar response to biological risks, maintaining the same framework of the 2018 strategy – Understand, Prevent, Detect and Respond. This will be accompanied by cross-cutting areas focused on activities such as international engagement and leadership, and stimulating growth in the health, life sciences and biological security sectors.
The strategy commits the Government to several actions to address these threats, including:
- The establishment of a new Biothreats Radar to scan biological risks, led by the Government’s National Situation Centre.
- Developing a National Biosurveillance Network to detect and monitor emerging biological threats to the UK.
- Establishing a new UK Biosecurity Leadership Council, bringing together academic and industry leaders to help establish the UK as a world leader in responsible innovation.
- Formalising the leadership structures that oversee biological security, including a lead minister who will report annually to Parliament – this will make a change from the previous strategy, where three different Ministers held responsibility.
- Establishing a Biological Security Task Force in the Cabinet Office to coordinate UK-wide efforts on biological security, including exercising the response to future threats.
The strategy also recognises the important role that the private sector can play in protecting the UK from biological threats. ADS and its Special Interest Group CBRN-UK welcomes the strategy’s commitment to working with the private sector to develop and deploy new technologies and solutions to address biological threats, including through scoping a new, agile, and simplified procurement mechanism for commissioning S&T from UK academia and industry and by stimulating innovation via a pipeline of biological security S&T Missions. Most importantly, ADS will work with its government partners to ensure the strategy’s commitment to ‘promote UK innovation in biosecurity technologies internationally, attract inward investment, and support UK exports’ is fully met.
The UK Biological Security Strategy is a positive step forward in protecting the UK from biological threats. However, there is still more that needs to be done to properly leverage the advanced capabilities of the UK’s biosecurity industry. ADS and its Special Interest Group CBRN-UK are committed to working with the Government to implement the strategy and make the UK a safer place.