Sign In
Search Icon
Menu Icon

Welcome Remarks

Biodefense Summit Transcript

​Remarks by Dr. Victor Dzau, President of the National Academy of Medicine

>> CICELY WATERS: Good morning, and welcome to the Biodefense Summit on Implementation of the National Biodefense Strategy.  Today's summit aims to engage the biodefense stakeholder community to inform national biodefense enterprise efforts to counter biological threats, reduce risk, prevent, prepare for, respond to, and recover from biological incidents, and as is typical for engagements of this type, there are a few administrative and housekeeping actions I'd like to make note of first.  The restrooms, the restrooms are located immediately out of the main exit of the auditorium and down the hall to your right.  In the case of an emergency, we do ask that everyone calmly exit via the exit signs and the doors on the sides of the stage.  Per the building policy, we do ask that you not bring any food or beverages into the auditorium.  There is an open WiFi network that's available to all of our attendees here on‑site today.  You may access the WiFi network noted as visitor, accept the terms and conditions for Internet access, and please note that this is not a password‑protected network.  During today's summit, our goal is to raise awareness about the national biodefense strategy, to gain greater awareness of biodefense activities conducted by non‑federal partners in the broader biodefense enterprise, including relevant private sector stakeholders. 

We aim to increase coordination with non‑federal partners, including international organizations, identify significant challenges related to the implementation of the strategy, identify opportunities for improvement in biodefense and high‑priority actions necessary to implement the strategy, and inform United States government actions to advance, um, the biodefense sector.  Today's meeting will include invited speakers, as well as a series of panels focused on a set of questions on the meeting agenda, on which the U.S. government would specifically like to solicit comment.  These questions concern matters such as the identification of gaps and opportunities for improvement in biodefense.  Recognizing that there are time limitations during this meeting, to hear from each and every participant, whether in‑person or via webcast today, there is also an opportunity for you to provide your feedback in writing via the e‑mail address, and you should also find that e‑mail address in your packet today.  Before we get started with our formal program, I'd like to introduce and welcome Dr. Victor Dzau, President of the National Academy of Medicine, to welcome all of you to this important meeting today.  Dr. Dzau?


>> VICTOR DZAU: Good morning, everyone.  Good morning.  All right, you need a cup of coffee?


>> VICTOR DZAU:  Um, on behalf of the entire National Academy of Sciences, engineering and medicine, I'm really pleased to welcome all of you to this, um, biodefense summit.  We are very honored that we've been asked to host this meeting at our site, and because we honor the Secretary Azar, who's here with us this morning, as well as a number of other important, um, speakers and leaders, such as the former homeland secretary, security secretary, Tom Ridge, um, the director of Office of Science, Technology and Policy, Calvin Judge Myer, and the assistant secretary of preparedness and response at HHS, Dr. Bob Kadlec.  I wanted to start thanking Teresa Lawrence.  Where is Teresa?  She's running around, working, and her team, as well as the Board on Health Sciences Policy staff at the NASEM for all their efforts to organizing this meeting.  Now, as you heard, this meeting brings together many stakeholders to provide input on the national bio‑security strategy, and this was released last fall.  I'm so glad that you guys are all here, because it's a critically important topic.  Bio threats are among the most serious threats facing the United States and globally, and they can arise from natural outbreaks of disease, accidents involving high‑consequence pathogen, or actions of terrorists or state actors. 

Certainly, in recent years, we've seen the emergence of many natural disease outbreaks, such as H1N1 influenza pandemic, the Ebola virus disease cases, and, of course, the Zika virus and many others.  All of these events have demonstrated the vulnerabilities of our public health and healthcare preparedness, response, and recovery systems.  It is only a matter of time, I believe, that we see the next disaster or next outbreak, so this, in fact, is why you're here, to provide input to this national biodefense strategy.  Now, I serve on the pandemic, um, the global preparedness monitoring board, which is co‑convened by WHO and World Bank after the Ebola outbreak.  This serves as a high‑level body, advising on global health crisis, preparedness, monitoring, update the world on state of preparedness.  So, we've recently looked at two, such as the external, the joint external evaluation tool, the HR monitoring evaluation framework, and I can tell you, the world is not prepared, and even though U.S. did fairly well on the scores, there are many areas for improvement.  At the GPMB meeting in Geneva earlier this month, we discussed the potential of, potential devastation that could occur or result from a highly‑transmissible deadly disease outbreak.  For example, airborne pathogen.  At the Munich security conference, Bill Gates issued a very serious warning, and I quote, "whether it occurs by nature or hand of a terrorist, epidemiologists say a fast‑moving airborne pathogen could kill more than 30 million people in less than a year."  And they say there's a reasonable probability the world will experience such an outbreak in the next 10 to 15 years. 

Now, you all know in this discussion that with rapid advance in dual‑use research and synthetic biology, there's certainly great concern that, by accident or manmade outbreak, can generate devastating outcome.  As stated in the national biodefense report, Americans' biodefense enterprise need to be nimble enough to address emerging infectious disease outbreaks, the risks associated with the accelerating pace of biotechnology, and the threats posed by terrorist groups seeking to use biology weapons.  So, such an enterprise must have capabilities necessary to disrupt, plots, degrade technical capabilities, and deter support for terrorists to seek to use weapons of mass destruction.  So, we need a strong public health infrastructure, we need to develop response capabilities, establish risk communications, develop effective distributing medical countermeasures, and prepare to collaborate across the country and internationally to support biodefense, end of quote.  So, you know, we need rapid response and recovery capabilities to limit the impact of bio incidents as they do occur.  At the National Academies, we are committed to advancing health security and find solutions.  Here's some of the work that we have done that would be obvious to you in terms of global health risk framework from microbial threats and many others.  Importantly, bio security implications of emerging science technology issues have also been addressed by us on a number of areas that you can see here, including the famous Think Report in 2004, that actually looked at biotechnology research in the age of terrorism, and many of you know, this is a foundation report that helps us look at, that's becoming better U.S. policy and led to the creation of the National Science Advisory Board on Biosecurity. 

Synthetic biology, dual‑use research will tackle all these issues, and importantly, we have been, we have found partnership with ASPR and with other parts of the government to be extremely productive, and these are just some of the examples of work that we've done with ASPR in the last three years.  So, I want to end by saying the following; that, in fact, um, to have effective defense strategy response, as we heard, we need to prevent, detect, prepare for, respond, recover from biologic threats, coordinate biodefense efforts with vital stakeholders, such as the people in this room, all levels of government, international partners, private sector industry, academia, and, of course, non‑government entities and more.  This is why you're all here today, to get to engage with the federal government, to provide input on the national biodefense strategy.  So, I thank you all for coming, and I wish you a most successful meeting.  Thank you very much.