We are not prepared for the next pandemic
This is the conclusion reached from the table-top exercise conducted by the Nuclear Threat Initiative and Munich Security Conference. 22 senior leaders were gathered from a range of key sectors such as public health, biotechnology, international security, and philanthropy to participate in a fictional biosecurity-based scenario. The purpose of this was to assess global preparedness in the face of another high-consequence biological event, and where any gaps lay in prevention strategies.
75 days after the exercise began in February 2022, there were 8.3K global cases of the fictitious virus Akhmeta, and 405 deaths. Already, challenges in managing such an event were arising from strains on infrastructure and other key resources, such as healthcare staff and supply chains. On day 362, this hypothetical global biological event had escalated much further, with 54.6M cases and 719K deaths.
Therefore, the participants agreed that the international system of pandemic prevention, detection and response is ‘woefully inadequate to address current and anticipated future biological threats’, regardless of the improvements made to such strategies since COVID-19.
All is not lost
Despite the bleakness of this conclusion, several gaps in current prevention frameworks, technological needs and limitations were identified from the discussion following the exercise, and recommendations made on the next steps needed to fill them.
At present, globally, there are constraints in the ability to assess and control biological threats of an unknown origin. Participants proposed access to key data regarding the source of a biological event and the baseline data before the outbreak is essential for understanding and successfully managing pathogen outbreaks of this nature. Qualified experts would also be necessary to analyse this data, assessing the outbreak’s source.
Furthermore, many participants highlighted the necessity of advancements in international data-sharing and surveillance. This would facilitate larger regional, national, and international capacities to identify outbreaks, especially those of an unknown origin or irregular characteristics, earlier in time. Connecting various international decision-makers and response forces aids more coordinated responses; something that was unanimously agreed upon.
A solution already in the works
Addressing many of the recommendations in the table-top discussion is Kromek’s integrated environmental monitoring system, currently in development. It is being designed to operate autonomously in any location with minimal user interaction, allowing constant surveillance. It harbours the potential to overcome the limitations of a lack of expert attention and infrastructure availability for sample transport and analysis.
Fast actionable intelligence for key decision-makers as well as military and civilian health authorities is also delivered through the completion of Next Generation Sequencing in-field. Bringing this capability out of the lab opens doors to the agnostic identification of biological entities from a variety of sample types. With threats being identified down to species level, the severity and dynamics of an outbreak can be gauged, and countermeasures rapidly enacted e.g., diagnosing, properly triaging, and treating infected individuals.
This ‘lab in a box’ can also, in principle, act as a standalone, or as an extensive network of connected devices, forming an early warning system. Assisting in the need for more coordinated responses, quality data from a range of different locations can be relayed back to remote decision-makers, helping inform the appropriate and timely regional, national or even international responses.
Dirk Demuth, Kromek’s Bio Product Manager commented: “The potential of our technology has been recognized by NATO through winning first prize in the Innovation Challenge last year. More and more thought leaders in their field see the possibilities as well and approach Kromek to collaborate and bring the development efforts closer to market.”
It is innovative companies such as Kromek that can provide the necessary enhancements to global biosecurity; bringing new technologies to the table. They facilitate the next steps in planning and implementing contextualised, preventative policy and action, and coordination between local government bodies and other decision-makers.
Currently, we’re not prepared for the next pandemic. But in the future, we can be.
Find out more about Kromek’s solution to biological threat preparedness