In June 2023 the Deputy Prime Minister of the UK, Oliver Dowden, announced that a new Biothreats Radar will be established to scan biological risks that pose a threat to the public. This will be “key to the UK’s fight and preparation for future pandemics”, led by the Government’s National Situation Centre. This endeavour brings data and experts together to analyse biological risks and trends, forming part of the new Biological Security Strategy to strengthen defences against infectious diseases, biological attacks, and antibiotic resistance.  

Investing in biosecurity 

The Biological Security Strategy identifies clear biosecurity actions. Although it builds upon the framework set out in 2018, it has been “updated to reflect lessons” from the COVID-19 pandemic. It outlines the plan for a range of threats such as bioterrorism or animal and plant diseases.  

The Government is “investing heavily” in biological security, spending over £1.5 billion each year. Among the initiatives that benefit from this funding are efforts to identify new disease, incentivise responsible innovation, and accelerate vaccine development progress as part of the 100 Days Mission.  

Four pillars of the Strategy 

The Strategy comprises four pillars: 

  • Understanding the biological risks we face today and could face in the future 
  • Preventing biological risks from emerging or from threatening the UK’s interests 
  • Detecting and reporting biological risks early when they do emerge 
  • Responding to biological risks that have reached the UK to lessen their impact 

As well as the Biothreats Radar, the Strategy outlines several commitments, including: 

  • The development of a National Biosurveillance Network 
  • The establishment of a new UK Biosecurity Council 
  • The development of new UK-based microbial forensics tools and capabilities 
  • Industry collaboration to further UK efforts to achieve the 100 Days Mission 
  • The formalisation of leadership structures and a lead minister  
  • The establishment of a Biological Security Task Force 
Learning from COVID-19 

Oliver Dowden reflected that the pandemic “was the biggest peacetime challenge in a century” and warned that we “must be diligent in preparing for future threats on this scale”. 

“This plan and our £1.5 billion investment per year puts us in a strong position to defeat the biological threats of tomorrow – from diseases to bioweapons and antimicrobial resistance.” 

He described the approach as “strong and ambitious”, claiming that it will harness the “sheer ingenuity of the UK’s researchers and scientists” and deploy “world-class crisis management capabilities”.  

The Government Chief Scientific Advisor, Professor Dame Angela McLean agreed that the pandemic showed “just how critical it is to have a coherent plan” to “protect the UK” and “build on the UK’s strengths in vaccine research and development and life sciences”. 

“The new Biological Security Strategy will make an important contribution to our preparedness.” 
A resilient future 

Dr Cassidy Nelson, Head of Biosecurity Policy at the Centre for Long-Term Resilience, described the Strategy as a “much-needed” emphasis on the UK’s role as a “global leader in enhancing resilience against biological risk”.  

“We welcome the goal to achieve resilience to the full spectrum of biological threats by 2030 and commend the use of built-in accountability measures to drive the implementation of the strategy.” 

Dr Nelson called for “sustained resourcing and prioritisation to achieve tangible improvements” within an “ambitious timeline”. UKHSA Chief Executive Dame Jenny Harries commented that the Strategy and commitment to a “biosecure future” places the UK in a “strong position to respond to the threats of the future”. 

“Hand-in-hand with our partners in industry and academic, UKHSA will work across government to ensure that, through our commitment to achieving the 100 Days Mission, working with DEFRA to develop the National Biosurveillance Network and improving the UK’s pandemic preparedness, we keep the public safe.” 

Do you think that this is an effective step for the UK, and how does it compare to efforts in your own region? For more updates like this, make sure you subscribe here. We look forward to hearing more from Dame Harries at the Congress in Europe this October.