By Gary Burns*

On the 8th of December representatives  from four companies participated in a panel discussion titled “Industry Perspectives on Implementation of the Biological Weapons Convention” at the 7th Review Conference of the Biological Weapons Convention held in Geneva.

Gary BurnsI had the pleasure of participating in the delivery of the industry panel. The event was jointly organised by the Global Agenda Council (GAC) on Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Weapons of the World Economic Forum (of which I am a part), the Biotechnology Industry Organisation (BIO) and the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS). The panel was co-chaired by Phyliss Arthur, Senior Director for Vaccines, Immunotherapeutics and Diagnostics Policy  at BIO and my colleague, Amy Smithson of CNS, who is also Chair of the GAC.

Gary Burns - biological weaponsThe panellists – from companies including Abbot Molecular, myself from AstraZeneca, Bavarian Nordic and  Xoma – shared perspectives on a number of key approaches to dealing with bio-weapons threats including surveillance and detection, prophylactic vaccines, therapeutics and biorisk management, including awareness–raising of dual-use risks and the potential for international biorisk management standards to enhance the existing confidence building measures associated with the Convention.

Discussions amongst the delegates touched upon issues that the GAC has also considered in our deliberations. To what extent can regulatory frameworks at the national level and international standards promote biosafety and biosecurity standards in countries where these are currently lacking? How can the international community prioritise efforts to counter the biological weapons threat? If industry is reluctant to engage with the BWC, how can their participation be encouraged? How to promote broader adoption of dual-use awareness training by industry?

Despite the perception that the private sector is wary of the BWC, the industry representatives on site were unanimous in expressing the opinion that participation in the Review Conference had been a positive and worthwhile experience.  It is important now that this positive experience serve as the basis for a broader and sustained engagement between industry and the BWC.

* Gary Burns is a Manager at Global Biosafety and Biosecurity, AstraZeneca Plc and member of the Global Agenda Council on Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Weapons.