Oliver Dowden: New Biothreats Radar will be key to the UK’s fight against future biological threats

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A new Biothreats Radar capable of scanning biological risks that pose a threat to the public will be key to the UK's fight and preparation for future pandemics, the Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden has announced today (Monday 12 June).

The Radar will be led by the Government's National Situation Centre and will bring together data from across government, existing independent advisory committees and wider expert groups who analyze biological risks and trends. It will centralize the data and actively monitor this information to provide decision makers with a comprehensive picture of known and developing biological threats.

This forms part of a new Biological Security Strategy published by the Government today to strengthen the UK's defenses against infectious diseases, biological attacks and antibiotic resistance.

The major new Strategy sets out clear actions on biosecurity, building upon the framework set out by the Government in 2018, and has been updated to reflect lessons learned during the Covid-19 pandemic. It outlines how the Government will tackle a wide range of threats head on -  from bioterrorism to animal and plant diseases - by 2030.

The Government is investing heavily in biological security, with spending now more than £1.5 billion each year. This funding underpins critical initiatives within the Strategy, including identifying new diseases, incentivizing responsible innovation in the biosciences, and progressing the pledge made by G7 leaders in Carbis Bay in 2021, known as the "100 Days Mission", to accelerate new vaccine development.

Four pillars will underpin how the Strategy tackles biological threats:

Understanding the biological risks we face today and could face in the future;

Preventing biological risks from emerging or from threatening the UK's interests;

Detecting and reporting biological risks early when they do emerge;

Responding to biological risks that have reached the UK to lessen their impact.

Alongside the Biothreats Radar, the Strategy sets out a number of commitments, including:

  • 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
  • Developing new UK-based microbial forensics tools and capabilities to support efforts to attribute biological incidents and deter the proliferation and use of biological weapons
  • Working with industry to further UK efforts to achieve the 100 Days Mission - reducing the impact of future pandemics by making vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics available within 100 days of a future outbreak
  • Formalizing the leadership structures that oversee our biological security - including a lead minister who will report annually to Parliament
  • Establishing a Biological Security Task Force in the Cabinet Office to coordinate UK-wide efforts on biological security, including exercising our response to future threats

The UK is already Europe's leading biotechnology hub and these commitments will further bolster the UK's strength in this area.

As set out in the recent Atlantic Declaration, the UK is also strengthening our bilateral collaboration with the United States on biological health and security, including through closer cooperation to tackle drug-resistant infections.

Deputy Prime Minister, Rt Hon Oliver Dowden MP, said:

Covid was the biggest peacetime challenge in a century, and we must be diligent in preparing for future threats on this scale.

This plan and our £1.5 billion investment per year puts us in a strong position to defeat the biological threats of tomorrow - from diseases to bioweapons and antimicrobial resistance. It's a strong and ambitious approach: one that harnesses the sheer ingenuity of the UK's researchers and scientists, and deploys our world-class crisis management capabilities to protect the people of the UK."

Government Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor Dame Angela McLean, said:

The COVID-19 pandemic showed just how critical it is to have a coherent plan to both protect the UK from the increasingly complex range of biological risks and build on the UK's strengths in vaccine research and development and life sciences. The new Biological Security Strategy will make an important contribution to our preparedness.

Head of Biosecurity Policy at the Centre for Long-Term Resilience, Cassidy Nelson, commented:

This much-needed strategy underscores the UK's role as a global leader in enhancing resilience against biological risks. We welcome the goal to achieve resilience to the full spectrum of biological threats by 2030, and commend the use of built-in accountability measures to drive the implementation of the strategy. We now need sustained resourcing and prioritisation to achieve tangible improvements to the UK's biosecurity capabilities on such an ambitious timeline."

Chief Executive of the UK Health Security Agency, Dame Jenny Harries, commented:

The Biological Security Strategy and its commitment to developing a biosecure future means that we are in a strong position to respond to the threats of the future. Hand-in-hand with our partners in industry and academia, UKHSA will work across government to ensure that, through our commitment to achieving the 100 Days Mission, working with DEFRA to develop the National Biosurveillance Network and improving the UK's pandemic preparedness, we keep the public safe."

The Strategy shows the Government's continued progress in strengthening the country's resilience and builds upon the UK Resilience Framework which officially made resilience a national endeavor for the very first time.

The Biological Security Strategy also follows the recent launch of the life-saving UK wide Emergency Alerts system which has transformed the country's warning and informing capability; enabling Government and the emergency services to send an alert directly to mobile phones when people are in immediate danger.

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