Department of Politics, Languages & International Studies

Department hosts meeting as part of Biochemical Security Project 2030

Mon May 12 13:35:00 BST 2014

Expert discussions in the afternoon round-table session, held in the University Council Chambers.

— Expert discussions in the afternoon round-table session, held in the University Council Chambers.


Members of the Department of Politics, Languages & International Studies recently convened a meeting as part of the Biochemical Security Project 2030; a project which addresses the question of how to ensure that advances in science and technology to not contribute to the prospect of biological and chemical weapon development. The meeting occurred in the context of the continued use of chemical weapons in Syria.

The meeting was led by Professor David Galbreath and Brett Edwards (Research Associate). In attendance were local laboratory biosafety and ethics experts, academics and policy experts, as well as representatives from several government organisations.

The meeting was designed to encourage frank discussion between practitioners and policy shapers. One of the practical aims was to discuss the potential value of regional networks in biochemical security, with an emphasis on the role of local research institutions as well other stake-holders at a local and national level.

Opening presentations were delivered by key institutions, including a presentation from Cathy Day, Head of Health, Safety and Environment (University of Bath). There was also a round-table session was chaired by Dr James Revill (University of Sussex).

During the event, there was a great emphasis on the need to ensure that civilian technologies, materials and expertise related to innovation did not contribute to the prospect of bio-chemical terrorism or warfare.

Following the meeting Brett Edwards stated: “Often such discussions tend to focus on lock and key containment type strategies. However, the emphasis within the Biochemical Security Project 2030 is to think about how novel approaches can be developed which allow for a broader range of misuse scenarios, and S&T trends of potential concern to be addressed in a pre-emptive and responsible way. This includes considering how existing local-level ethics review and safety practices could potentially be developed to more explicitly and comprehensively address security concerns.’’

A report of the meeting is under production, however some key provisional findings include:

  • the idea that innovation security policy is developed and implemented in quite different ways in different university contexts
  • a range of local, regional and national networks (both formal and personal) already exist which address which are relevant regional innovation security policy
  • there are a number of potential ways by which institutional innovation security policy could be more forward looking; for example it was suggested that there was need for greater security consultation when new laboratories were being designed and built
  • greater engagement with the scientific community, as well as education initiatives directed at this community would be of value to many of the stake-holders
  • that regional biochemical security networks could serve a number of potential roles and had support from many of those in attendance.

Speaking after the meeting, Professor Galbreath stated: “The ethical and risk management of chemistry and biology occurs at many levels from the United Nations to individual scientists in the lab. The meeting was a great opportunity to bring these different levels together to talk about the challenges to these scientific advances and how they pose a problem for security and public health.

“I am exceptionally pleased with the understanding and co-operative spirit of the participants and look forward to further cooperation with our partners at the ESRC and DSTL as well as through a South West Bio-chemical Security Initiative.”

Further information

The Biochemical Security 2030 Project is funded by the ESRC and DSTL under the RCUK Global Uncertainties initiative as part of the Science and Security Programme.

The original project was designed and submitted by Dr Alexander Kelle (University of Bath) whom is currently seconded to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

The principle Investigator on the project is Professor David Galbreath, supported by the work of Brett Edwards.

Further information on the project, as well as a policy paper series is available on the project website.