Sedgefield-based Kromek Group plc has published a white paper setting out the urgent need for the UK Government to invest in technology to prevent a future pandemic.
Future biological threats and mitigation, authored by Kromek CEO, Dr Arnab Basu MBE and chemical and biological weapons expert, Colonel Hamish de Bretton-Gordon OBE, with a foreword by former Secretary of State for Defence, Sir Michael Fallon.
The white paper calls on decisionmakers to treat the Covid-19 pandemic as a wake-up call, rather than a one-off event. It suggests that emerging bio-skills among rogue states and terror groups could lead to modified viruses becoming a feature of future warfare, notwithstanding the continued risk of existing animal pathogens mutating to enable human-to-human transmission.
Dr Arnab Basu MBE, co-author of the white paper and CEO of Kromek, said: “The international community must be alive to the very real threat that Covid-19 isn’t a one off. There is every chance of another naturally occurring pathogen, alongside the likelihood that biological warfare, in the form of genetically modified viruses, could be used in the near future. The impact on human life and the global economy of this pandemic must act as a call to action.”
In summary, the report, which has been sent to national and local decisionmakers, makes a number of key recommendations and observations:
- Global and national governance and regulations need to be reviewed
- It is time to revamp the 1975, Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, the disarmament treaty banning biological weapons
- Global and national pandemic early warning systems are key to preventing future pandemics
- The UK Government’s bio security strategy and procurement plans should be developed to ensure future resilience
Funded by the US and UK government agencies, Kromek has spent three years developing the technology that would enable building a national or global early warning system to mitigate against the emergence of a new airborne disease. The benchtop-sized machine filters the air and captures all biological particles which are DNA-sequenced in situ to monitor both their emergence and prevalence.
Deployed in urban centres, high footfall areas and sensitive locations such as airports or hospitals, early detection of localised outbreaks can be quickly identified and contained. The systems are designed to be networked in large numbers, to provide a near real time map pathogens enabling an early warning system for emerging biological threats.
In his foreword to the paper, Sir Michael Fallon, who served as Defence Secretary from 2014-17, said: “We need to upgrade our biological protection from backward-looking “Test and Trace” systems to real-time autonomous DNA sequencing that can give our national and local agencies actionable intelligence to head off the next pandemic before it gets rooted.
“The technology is already here, developed by cutting-edge bio security companies such as Kromek. Deploying it at our airports and ports and in our urban centres would better protect us against the next pandemic.”