Academies and implementation of the Biological Weapons Convention

Biotechnology & Biosecurity

The Meeting of States Parties of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) took place from 4-8 December 2017.

IAP was represented throughout the proceedings, but especially visible at a side event that aimed to highlight different activities that various academies are undertaking which are helping in the implementation of the BWC.

At a pre-meeting on 1 December, Robin Fears (EASAC) was invited to present an overview of the meeting on ‘Assessing the security implications of genome editing technology’, which was organized by IAP, EASAC, the German National Academy of Sciences, Leopoldina, and the US National Academy of Sciences, and held at Herrenhausen near Hanover, Germany, on 11-13 October 2017.

Then, on 5 December, the various NGOs present at the deliberations were invited to present their statements. With the aim of achieving greater impact, a combined statement from 19 organizations and signed up to by another 40 individuals, was presented by Filippa Lentzos, senior research fellow, King’s College, London.

The statement focused on four areas that it urged States Parties to the Convention to come together to make progress: how to keep track of unprecedented advances in science and technology; reassurance and transparency initiatives; restructuring the intersessional processes; and resourcing, or financing, to support implementation of the Convention.

IAP was among the NGOs that endorsed the statement.

Following this, Jo Husbands (US NASEM and representing the IAP Biosecurity Working Group) presented a short IAP statement. This highlighted IAP’s efforts in support of the BWC, including the Herrenhausen meeting and the forthcoming report, which will be made available to the BWC, as well as a meeting to be held in 2018, to be organized by IAP and US NASEM, which will provide further opportunities for developments of science and technology to feed into the BWC process. (At present, as highlighted in the joint NGO statement, the BWC does not have a formal mechanism for such actions).

Then, on 7 December, IAP hosted a side event on ‘Implementation in Action: IAP’s experience in engaging scientists in biosecurity’.

The event was chaired by IAP Coordinator, Peter McGrath, who provided a short background to IAP, focusing on its work on promoting responsible research practices and biosecurity.

Among the speakers were:

From the presentations, it became clear that academies are helping to implement the articles of the BWC in a number of ways, including: public outreach and awareness-raising activities (such as the ‘Making Pakistan science conscious’ campaign and the Swiss Academy of Sciences report ‘Misuse potential and biosecurity in life sciences research’); reports, policy advice and feedback to government (as in the case of ASSAf’s ‘Consensus Report on the State of Biosafety and Biosecurity in South Africa’); and by bringing the scientific community together, as exemplified in Jordan and Pakistan, in particular. In the case of Jordan, Al-Hmoud emphasized the need to engage all actors in the science ecosystem, or the “life sciences soup” as she described it.

Final comments, including acknowledgement of the Open Philanthropy Project (OPP), who provided financial support for the event, were provided by Jo Husbands.

As to the Meeting of States Parties itself, many of the deliberations were carried out behind closed doors as member states tried to iron out some critical issues for strengthening the Convention. In particular, they focused on four areas: international cooperation; science and technology; national implementation; and assistance, support and preparedness. The meeting did conclude successfully, though, with member states agreeing at the last minute on an intersessional programme of work. This programme will include a series of ‘meetings of experts’ (MX) each year on each of the four focus areas. In particular, the science and technology meetings will focus on biological risk assessment and management, as well as genome editing technologies and “any other science and technology developments of relevance to the Convention.”


Announcing Institution