Understanding and Mitigating Emerging and Future Risks in the Life Sciences:
The International Network on Biotechnology: A Side Event at the Eighth Review Conference of the Biological Weapons Convention
On 15 November 2016, the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI) and the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) organized a Side Event at the Eighth Review Conference of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) entitled “Understanding and Mitigating Emerging and Future Risks in the Life Sciences: The International Network on Biotechnology.”
The Side Event introduced the International Network on Biotechnology (INB), which is a new initiative dedicated to raising biosafety and biosecurity awareness and promoting sustainable development in biotechnology. The International Network seeks to connect stakeholders from across academia, industry, and government to jointly address emerging and future risks in the life sciences.
Following the opening remarks by Mr. Francesco Marelli, Head of UNICRI’s Security Governance Programme, a video presentation was made for the BWC delegates illustrating how the future might look in 2026. The video included two hypothetical scenarios involving cyber crime, extortion, economic sabotage, and the theft of genomic sequence information. It allowed the BWC delegates to think critically about the opportunities and challenges presented by rapid advances in genomic sequencing, personalized medicine and Big Data. The scenarios presented in the video were not predictions but possibilities intended to prompt discussion, and to encourage a debate on how societies can best prepare for the future.
Dr. William So, of the FBI’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate, then offered a revealing look at how the current state-of-the art in biotechnology is already changing, enabling tremendous benefits for healthcare and the economy, but also new safety and security challenges. He presented the example of a real life cyber attack involving the large-scale theft of clinical data, information that can be far more devastating than any digital bank heist. Dr. So explained that in many ways biotechnology is already achieving impressive results, but is also raising concerns that are not unfounded.
In this context, UNICRI and the Landau Network Fondazione Volta, the institution responsible for the implementation of a pilot project that led to the establishment of the International Network on Biotechnology, expressed the need for future-oriented thinking. They also articulated how the Network can use scenario-based teaching materials to engage young scientists, biotech industry, and policy-makers to think about the evolution of biotechnology over time and to consider how we can foster security, safety, and innovation.
Concerning next steps for the INB, UNICRI’s closing remarks emphasized continuing to build on its existing network to engage new partners - including universities, regional biosafety associations and biotech consortia, among others - who can serve as regional and international champions in biosafety and biosecurity. UNICRI will continue to develop scenario-based awareness raising materials (including videos, virtual reality trainings, and table-top exercises) tailored to multiple contexts and institutional settings.
For more information, please contact Mr. Jayant Sangwan, Associate Programme Officer, UNICRI CBRN Risk Mitigation and Security Governance. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org