Sunday, January 4, 2015

Disruptive Technologies in Bio-Defence

Disruptive technology describes a new technology that displaces an established one. Clayton M. Christiansen separates technology into two categories: sustaining and disruptive. Sustaining technology relies on incremental improvements to an already established technology. Disruptive technology on the other hand, lacks refinement, is not fully developed, appeals to a limited audience and may not have a proven practical application. ( 

Disruptive technology in the life sciences has changed the landscape of bio-technology and bio-defence.  If we consider bio-defence technology in particular, there are several advances which will likely alter how we conceive of defence and our medical counter measure options. Three major technologies: Virus Like Particles, 3D bio-printers and MIT's 4D self assembling and programmable matter technologies, will likely revolutionize bio-defence. 

In an article by Stu Magnuson, entitled: Chemical-Biological Defence Office to Kick Off Dozens of New Programs, the author contends: "There will be about 3.5 billion from fiscal years 2013 to 2018 to spend on everything from new vaccines and protective gear to information technology that will create a global early warning system for infectious diseases, said Carmen Spencer, the joint program executive officer for chemical and biological defense. "Everything is locked in Jell-O," he cautioned, referring to the continuing resolutions and budget uncertainties that have plagued the Defense Department of late. "Because of the world situation as it is today and the emerging threats, there is much more scrutiny in our ability to protect our armed forces, (and) to prevent WMD proliferation around the globe," Spenser told reporters at an advanced planning briefing for industry day at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Md." See:
Photo: (nano particles used in untested H1N1 Swine Flu Vaccines

While preventing proliferation of WMD is a noble cause, advancements, specifically in offensive biological weapon development and deployment platforms, which in some sectors of BW has resulted in 'de-skilling,' make proliferation and acquisition more likely. We simply can not afford to continue countering the threat of BW to our forces with current drug development models, outdated non-proliferation treaties and highly limited methodologies. If we compare developments in the chemical weapon field Johnathan B. Tucker notes in his paper entitled, "The Future of Chemical Weapons:" "At the same time that the process of economic globalization is undermining traditional nonproliferation measures such as export controls, a number of emerging chemical technologies have the potential to transform the nature of the CW threat as well. The pharmaceutical industry, for example, uses a technique called 'combinatorial chemistry' to discover promising drug candidates. This method involves the automated mixing and matching of molecular building blocks to generate a 'library' containing thousands of structurally related compounds, which are then screened for a desired pharmacological activity such as the ability to inhibit a key enzyme. Although harmful substances discovered in this manner typically have no therapeutic value and are set aside, it would be fairly easy to 'mine' a combinatorial database to identify highly toxic compounds that could be developed into CW agents.According to a group of experts convened by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) to discuss the implications of emerging technologies for the CWC, 'Some new chemicals found by data base mining will have toxicity characteristics that could lead to their being considered as chemical weapon agents.' Before a new toxic chemical can be turned into an effective weapon, however, it must meet a number of additional requirements, including stability in long term storage, an appropriate degree of volatility or persistence to ensure its effective dissemination, a low cost production method, and the availability of medical antidotes to protect the attacker's own troops." (See: I would argue that disruptive technologies will witness, in the near future, the ability to rather swiftly overcome the above mentioned technical threshold issues.

When we consider vaccine production and medical countermeasures for bio-defence, disruptive technologies take on a substantially new meaning. "The Defence Department and the Food and Drug Administration generally takes about fifteen years and an average of 280 million dollars to develop one vaccine." Per the armed services, "Big Pharma is just not interested. Companies in that industry want to produce a billion doses of a vaccine and the military orders quantities in the 100,000 range. Bio-defence is an industry which will likely be revolutionized by these disruptive technologies.Vaccine production for example could be made on demand, while this may undercut big bio-pharma, in the long term it is likely to be highly profitable for this industry. (See: 

Additionally, our ability to bio-print vaccines and medical counter-measures will likely increase research and development and substantially decrease manufacturing and delivery times. In terms of drug development to counter the threat BW poses to the war fighter, nano particle vaccine research and development has been on going for the past several years and is a disruptive technology which will substantially change how we deliver vaccines and other drugs. Drug development is only one sector within bio-defence to be revolutionized, it is imperative we consider technologies thus far unrelated to preventing biological weapon deployment in mass casualty scenarios. Advanced BW delivery platforms such as Micro Aerial Vehicle (MAV) delivery, requires a different set of counter-measures and an understanding of and appreciation for how this technology could be utilized for purposes beyond surveillance and intelligence collection.

Jill Bellamy is an internationally recognized expert on biological warfare and defence. She has formerly advised NATO and for the past seventeen years has represented a number of bio-pharmaceutical and government clients working on procurement strategy between NATO MS and Washington DC. Her private government relations consultancy Warfare Technology Analytics is based in the Netherlands. Dr. Bellamy's articles have appeared in the National Review, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Sunday Times of London, Le Temps, Le Monde and the Jerusalem Post among other publications. She is a CBRN SME with the U.S. Department of Defence, Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defence Information Analysis Center and CEO of Warfare Technology Analytics.

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