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Biosecurity experts from US, India identify actionable next steps for advancing bilateral collaboration

By Nick Alexopulos | Dec. 19, 2017
India biosecurity dialogue Nov17 meeting report
Full report (PDF)

Rapid advancements in biotechnology necessitate more strategic collaboration between the United States and India on issues of biosecurity, say experts from those 2 countries who met this fall in Washington, DC, as part of an ongoing bilateral dialogue convened by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

The dialogue, now in its second year, brings together US and Indian senior leaders to examine the biosecurity threat landscapes of their respective countries. Over 2 days in November, participants at the latest meeting exchanged lessons learned from past crises, compared approaches to formulating national biosecurity policy, and identified actionable next steps for advancing bilateral collaboration on critical biosecurity issues of mutual concern. Among those next steps: addressing challenges in pathogen management and life sciences research, with an emphasis on synthetic biology.

“The biotech revolution is unfolding at a critical juncture in the US-India bilateral relationship,” the Center wrote in its summary meeting report released today. “The US’s military and diplomatic pivot to Asia – a shift initiated by the Obama administration that has continued under the Trump administration – and its growing focus on the Indo-Pacific region have culminated in several joint efforts with India centering around defense and technology.”

But there’s still more work to do. Participants acknowledged a need to strengthen peer-to-peer exchanges between scientists in different countries and bridge-building between do-it-yourself bio communities and nascent biotech companies. Each would be an effort of increasing value amid constantly fluctuating geopolitical and technological landscapes.

This group determined it could take the first step forward by conceptualizing a program for facilitating increased peer-to-peer exchange between US and Indian life scientists on biosecurity priorities. The dialogue participants agreed on additional opportunities for collaboration that merit further discussion between the delegations, including:

  • Developing a memorandum of understanding to formalize collaborative efforts in biosecurity between the US and India;
  • Identifying and jointly implementing a substantial, milestone project tackling a subset of shared biological threats;
  • Examining opportunities for building public-private partnerships to tackle challenges in biological threat detection and rapid response;
  • Identifying actionable ways of strengthening the medical countermeasure enterprises of each country;
  • Considering options for establishing a regional biosecurity center headquartered in India; and
  • Continuing to examine recent developments in global health security.

Participants in this “Track II” dialogue represent organizations inside and outside of government, with expertise in biosecurity, biosafety, the life sciences and biotechnology, medicine, public health, geopolitics, and regional security. The Center also hosts a separate Track II multilateral biosecurity dialogue among experts from Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the United States. Track II dialogues are an opportunity for respected, experienced stakeholders inside and outside of government to collectively identify important issues that merit official policy engagement between and among governments (ie, Track I level). With this foundation, participants are prepared to engage senior leadership in their home countries in an influential way.

“Bilateral ties between the United States and India, the world’s two largest democracies, are of strategic importance to international security,” said the Center in its meeting report. “Both nations are regional and global collaborators in health, defense, and trade; both also share strong commitments to reducing the threats of infectious disease and terrorism, strengthening their respective militaries, and expanding their bilateral economic partnership.”

The next dialogue meeting will be held in New Delhi, India, in February 2018.

This dialogue and the multilateral dialogue are supported by the Project on Advanced Systems and Concepts for Countering WMD (PASCC, which is sponsored by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency) of the US Air Force Institute for National Security Studies.

About the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security:
The Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security works to protect people from epidemics and disasters and build resilient communities through innovative scholarship, engagement, and research that strengthens the organizations, systems, policies, and programs essential to preventing and responding to public health crises. The Center is part of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and is located in Baltimore, MD.