Last week marked the annual Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) Meeting of Experts in Geneva. The BWC is a multi-national treaty prohibiting the manufacture of biological weapons, and also contains provisions related to national implementation and multi-national coordination for preparedness and assistance. Each year a Meeting of Experts takes place to discuss ongoing issues related to the implementation of the treaty.
This year, for the first time ever, BIO was invited to present on novel technologies and emerging approaches to public-private partnerships to ensure preparedness under the treaty. BIO’s members include companies that use biotechnology to develop health products for the diagnosis, treatment and management of disease; to develop medical countermeasures; and to develop products for the biosurveillance and biodetection of pathogens.
Paul Sheives, BIO’s Director of Diagnostics & Personalized Medicine Policy, and Dr. Akhila Kosaraju, Vice President of Global Development at SIGA Technologies (a BIO member company) presented at the meeting.
Mr. Sheives’s presentation focused on developments of applications of new technologies into products. He noted that recent advances in biotechnology — and in particular next generation, high-throughput genomic sequencing — are revolutionizing the way we practice diagnostics. The cost of sequencing a human genome has decreased to the point of approaching $1,000, which opens enormous potential for the diagnosis and management of disease.
Next generation, high-throughput sequencing provides a universal method that can be used with viruses, bacteria, or parasites without the requirement for a presupposition of the suspected pathogen. It can identify pathogen strains that differ by as little as one single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP), and can replace the need for multiple tests.
He discussed several other examples that illustrate the wide varieties of innovative technologies being developed. One company, Luminex, has developed a novel platform for multi-plex detection of pathogens called xMap. Luminex’s xMAP Technology combines advanced fluidics, optics, and digital signal processing with color-coded tiny beads to detect up to 500 different analytes in a single sample. This multi-plex approach generates more data with less sample, less labor and lower costs in a shorter time. It provides a focused, flexible and updatable method to analyze a wide variety of pathogens and virulence factors.
Another company, IsoMark, has developed technology that can rapidly measure a patented set of breath biomarkers for detecting the presence of infection in as little as two hours after onset. Point of care application via breath samples replaces the need for blood collection and post-draw distribution. The technology is not dependent on a particular infectious agent to reach the result; rather, it measures the generic host response to infection. It can detect infection prior to onset of symptoms, and in some cases in as little as 2 hours post-infection – which is substantially faster than other metrics, such as changes in vital signs.
Dr. Kosaraju’s presentation focused on recommendations to foster the development of current and future medical countermeasures. “It is important that regulatory requirements among the member States allow the efficient and broad dissemination of medical countermeasures. We urge the BWC member States to examine public-private partnership approaches and collective regional approaches to ensuring preparedness under the treaty,” said Dr. Kosaraju.
At co-located events during the Meeting of Experts, other BIO members presented on advances in the understanding of pathogenicity of biological agents, and hosted a mock exercise for delegates on a national crisis response to terrorist use of a bioweapon.
Industry plays a vital role in developing innovative and critical resources to respond to the threat of biological weapons. BIO is committed to helping the Biological Weapons Convention understand the latest developments in technology and open a dialogue on how industry can assist governments with the development of the required infrastructure to ensure preparedness.