↑ comment by Joan Rohlfing ·
2021-12-09T19:19:58.508Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
Thanks for this very thoughtful question, Tessa.
1. What are the most important problems for this project, and what is stopping you (/NTI) from working on them right now?
The Biosecurity Innovation and Risk Reduction Initiative (BIRRI) was born from the recognition that advances in biotechnology are rapidly outpacing the ability of governments to provide effective oversight. Through BIRRI, we are working to identify efforts that would be most impactful in safeguarding science and reducing the risk of catastrophic events that could result from deliberate abuse or accidental misuse of bioscience and biotechnology.
The research ecosystem that enables biotechnological developments is diverse—involving publishers, academic scientists, private industry, research funders, bioethicists, managers, security experts, statisticians, and more. Although each group has a shared interest in the overall success of research, their near-term priorities may not always be aligned. BIRRI seeks to bring together these diverse stakeholders to identify and advance practical tools that, when paired with appropriate incentive structures, have a real chance at reducing risks.
Projects under the umbrella of the initiative were collaboratively developed and are designed to cut across the research lifecycle, providing a layered defense against deliberate or accidental misuse of biotechnologies.
We believe all five of the initiatives you listed are critical components of this layered defense, and we’re working on each of these to different degrees.
For example, NTI is partnering with Stanford University on the Visibility Initiative for Responsible Science in an effort to understand, improve, and standardize risk reduction practices among communities involved in research, with a particular focus on funders and publishers.
We’re also partnering with the World Economic Forum and global leaders from industry, academic, philanthropy, and international organizations to develop an international Common Mechanism for DNA synthesis screening to protect this critical service from malicious actors who may seek to exploit it to cause harm.
To create systemic and sustainable change in the global biosecurity architecture, NTI and partners have also prioritized efforts to establish the International Biosecurity and Biosafety Initiative for Science (IBBIS), a new organization that will work collaboratively to strengthen global biosecurity norms and develop innovative tools to uphold them. The goal of IBBIS will be to safeguard science and reduce the risk of catastrophic events that could result from deliberate abuse or accidental misuse of bioscience and biotechnology.
IBBIS is slated to launch in 2022 and will begin with a narrow focus on improving DNA synthesis screening practices internationally with the flexibility to expand its remit over time to encompass, but also expand beyond, the other goals outlined in each initiative.
We see our current approach as developing urgently needed, risk-reducing pilot efforts while simultaneously building out the larger institutional structure required to fully implement and sustain these efforts.
2. What is the limiting factor on the project’s growth and progress?
We’re pleased with the progress of our efforts, however, ultimately, limited team resources – both in terms of human and financial resources - is a limiting factor through much of our work. There are many gaps in the international biosecurity architecture and many important solutions to develop. To make the best use of our limited staff time, we try to prioritize projects that are important, timely, and have the potential to advance biosecurity in the long term.
Additionally, engaging stakeholders and building communities is crucial to our work. Strong relationships take time to build, but are essential to gaining trust, avoiding “one-off” solutions, and ensuring that our efforts create sustainable and durable positive change.
3. What problems in this project are the largest order of magnitude? What changes could you make that would result in a 100x or 1000x increase in this project’s positive impact?
Referring to a previous point about developing a common mechanism for screening DNA synthesis orders, creating a tool and set of standards to simplify screening is an important first step to increasing the depth and breadth of screening coverage.
Coupling the development of tools like the common mechanism with the launch and sustainment of a global organization like IBBIS, with the capacity to work with diverse partners to identify, socialize, and implement stronger biosecurity norms though both practical tools and accompanying incentive structures, will increase the positive impact of these efforts on risk reduction. This will require a careful design and approach and NTI is working with an international steering group to shape this effort.