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BiosecurityNew biosecurity initiative to advance benefits, reduce risks of life sciences research

Published 8 September 2017

A new biosecurity initiative at Stanford’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI) aims to identify and mitigate biological risks, both natural and man-made, and safeguard the future of the life sciences and associated technologies. The biosecurity initiative will seek to advance the beneficial applications of the life sciences while reducing the risks of misuse by promoting research, education and policy outreach in biological security.

A new biosecurity initiative at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI) aims to identify and mitigate biological risks, both natural and man-made, and safeguard the future of the life sciences and associated technologies.

FSI says that the initiative will be led by David A. Relman, a senior fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation and FSI. Relman, the Thomas C. and Joan M. Merigan Professor in the Departments of Medicine, and Microbiology & Immunology, has served as the science co-director at CISAC for the past four years. He left this position on 31 August to lead the new initiative.

Michael McFaul, director and senior fellow at FSI, said, “With exceptional leadership skills, valuable experience and abundant energy, David Relman is ideally positioned to work with scholars from across campus who offer critical expertise in biosecurity. This is an exciting, challenging and important new initiative for FSI that is designed to protect public health from the many new risks now accelerating.”

Relman said the biosecurity initiative will seek to advance the beneficial applications of the life sciences while reducing the risks of misuse by promoting research, education and policy outreach in biological security. His CISAC leadership gives him the know-how to lead such a wide-ranging effort across diverse disciplines and communities.

Relman said, “The opportunity to serve as co-director at CISAC has been a wonderful experience, one that has afforded me the chance to get to know outstanding faculty and staff, their scholarship, and critical policy-relevant work, all of which I had not fully appreciated sitting across campus. This experience has made clear the unusual qualities of Stanford University, and the great people that work here. I am now greatly looking forward to this new opportunity at FSI.”

Biosecurity collaborations
FSI notes that during Relman’s term as CISAC’s science co-director from 2013 to 2017, he led an expansion of the transdisciplinary work in science and security to include biology, biological and other areas of engineering, medicine, and earth and environmental sciences.

The foundations for work in biological science, technology and security were established at CISAC, especially in the hiring of Megan Palmer, a senior research scholar at CISAC and FSI. Both Relman and Palmer worked together on engagements and discussions with a growing network of more than 20 faculty involved in biosecurity across Stanford.

Palmer said, “Stanford has an opportunity and imperative to advance security strategies for biological science and technology in a global age. Our faculty bring together expertise in areas including technology, policy, and ethics, and are deeply engaged in shaping future of biotechnology policy and practices.”

New insights, new risks
In his new post, Relman said he intends to build on this foundation by creating an initiative that consolidates and focuses activity in biosecurity, develops research and educational programs, attracts new resources, and looks outward at opportunities for policy impact and changing practices across the globe.

Relman said that “new capabilities and insights are reshaping important aspects of the life sciences and associated technologies, and are accompanied by a host of new risks.” If misused, whether by malice or accident, “they pose the potential for large-scale harm,” he noted.

Relman added that the initiative will bring together interest and expertise across the centers and programs of FSI in partnership with Schools and Departments across the university.

At FSI, CISAC will co-sponsor the biological security initiative, which will leverage Stanford expertise in the life sciences, engineering, law and policy. Key partners will include Tim Stearns (biology), Drew Endy (bioengineering), Mildred Cho (bioethics), and Hank Greely (law), according to Relman. The biosecurity group will also partner with another new program at FSI in global health and conflict, which is led by Paul Wise, Frank Fukuyama, Steve Stedman, Steve Krasner, and others, he added.

Stanford’s School of Medicine and Department of Medicine will also co-sponsor the initiative, thanks to leadership from Lloyd Minor, Michele Barry and Robert Harrington. Relman looks forward to establishing similar relationships with other schools and departments, he said.

“These partnerships are critical. I’m excited to work with a growing community both within and beyond Stanford towards the goal of a peaceful and prosperous world in the century of biology,” he said.