Time to take proactive approach towards Bio-Defence Preparedness

FICCI
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It has been witnessed in the past that bio-threat and bioterrorism have the ability to deeply impact the socio-economic status of a country; therefore it is essential to anticipate potential threats in advance and take necessary steps to combat these bio-threats. This was stated here today by Mr. Jesper Elsgaard, Vice President, Governmental Affairs, Bavarian Nordic, Denmark, at a FICCI conference on ‘Bio-Defence: Preparedness & Need for Proactive Approach’. The conference focused on bioterrorism which is use of biological agents to intentionally produce disease or intoxication in susceptible populations – humans, animals, or plants – to meet terrorist aims. Bioterrorism and bio threat underline the need for a proactive approach, said Mr. Elsgaard and added that bio defence is a proactive action that uses medical measures to protect people against bioterrorism and includes medicines and vaccinations. Mr. Elsgaard said that as bio defence is a complicated industry because of the many things that have to be aligned together such as public perception, incentives, understanding of threat, transparency, acceptance of failure and long-term commitment.

He added that bio defence includes medical research and preparations to defend against bioterrorist attacks. Through long-standing collaborations, including a collaboration with the U.S. government, Bavarian Nordic has developed a portfolio of vaccines for infectious diseases, including the nonreplicating smallpox vaccine, said Mr. Elsgaard and added that biotech companies spent considerable amount of time developing a vaccine against what has so far been a non-existent disease and also explore possible avenues for the re-emergence of disease, including the impact of developments in synthetic biology. Lt. Gen. (Dr) JR Bhardwaj, PVSM AVSM VSM PHS (Retd), MD DCP PhD FICP FAMS FRC Path (London), Former Member, National Disaster Management Authority, Government of India, Director General of Armed Forces Medical Services, said that bio threat is from both state and non-state agents and there was a need to create awareness about bio threats as in India it has not been given due importance. India possesses one of the best national guidelines on biological warfare but not much progress has taken place on the ground, he added. Lt. Gen. (Dr) JR Bhardwaj said that bio threats have the potential to paralyse an economy and can prove to be far more dangerous than nuclear and chemical weapons. India has the capability to undertake bio defence and DRDO and other such institutions were working towards it. He added that it is of great importance to define potential bio threat agents and keep the labs updated with skilled first responders and work on prevention by way of immunization.

Mr. Nirankar Saxena, Senior Director – BISNET, Science & Technology Innovation Disaster Management, ATA Carnet & Commercialization of Innovation, FICCI, said that the conference was focused on preparedness by having a plan before bio-terrorism strikes. The possible avenues for bio defence, including the impact of developments in synthetic biology were discussed, giving an inside view on the bio defence industry and its unusual business model. Mr. Saxena said that the there was a need for long-term planning to resolve an outbreak of an infectious disease. The time is to be proactive, not reactive in developing preparedness against bio threats. He added that the leading companies and their experts should engage themselves in multiple development programmes with governments, the more success stories there will be, and eventually innovation will create a more substantial market with more players.

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