The need for an internationally coordinated set of measures for managing bio-risks has been at the forefront of the considerations of States Parties of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC) for nearly two decades. China, together with Pakistan, officially submitted to the 2016 Eighth Review Conference of the BWC a working paper for ‘A Model Code of Conduct for Biological Scientists’ developed by scholars at Tianjin University’s Center for Biosafety Research and Strategy, with a follow-up document submitted in 2018.
Since then, and especially since January 2021, Tianjin University and Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security have been working with IAP, also in close liaison with the US Department of State and the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to adapt the China-Pakistan document into a set of guiding principles and standards of conduct, which both individual scientists and institutions active in biological research are expected to follow.
Indeed, IAP has been a key partner in the development of the ‘Tianjin Biosecurity Guidelines for Codes of Conduct for Scientists’ (available also in Chinese). IAP Coordinator, Peter McGrath played a key role in drafting and editing elements of the text, as well as in planning and actively participating in two online international workshops (on 8 April and 26 May 2021) organized to solicit the input of a group of about 20 international experts convened to review, revise and improve earlier drafts of the document as well as to advise on eventual dissemination strategies. M. Iqbal Parker, a member of the IAP Biosecurity Working Group from South Africa, also played an active role in the drafting and review process. Other members of the IAP Biosecurity Working Group, including the chair, Ann Arvin, attended the two online discussion workshops.
The guiding principles and standards of conduct laid out in the ‘Tianjin Biosecurity Guidelines for Codes of Conduct for Scientists’ are designed to be fundamental and inherently adaptable to diverse contexts and thus may be used to develop new or enhance, supplement and update existing codes of conduct to fill the gaps in biosecurity governance at national and institutional levels.
Following IAP’s endorsement, which involved a review by members of its Statements Governance Committee before sign-off by the Steering Committee, the Tianjin Guidelines will next be submitted to the Ninth Review Conference of States Parties of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention in order to garner wider international recognition.
At a time when research capacity in the biosciences in increasing, and new technologies such as genome editing and synthetic biology, are becoming accessible in more and more countries, the publication of such a set of guidelines is timely. IAP’s member academies and other scientific organizations are now encouraged to disseminate the Tianjin Guidelines and work to ensure their integration into national and institutional biosecurity and biosafety codes of conduct.