Representatives from the federal government, academia and private industry recently convened at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, in Laurel, for a tabletop exercise to assess the nation’s preparedness for security threats unique to the bioeconomy.

A report summarizing the lessons learned from the exercise was released in late November.

The bioeconomy, a network of biomedical, bioindustrial and agricultural domains, is a critical component of the nation’s economy that accounts for 5%-7% of the United States Gross Domestic Product.

In May 2023, several dozen experts in public health, policy, cyber, physical sciences and law came together to identify vulnerabilities, develop mitigation recommendations and establish a greater understanding of the extent of the threats to key biological capabilities. The exercise, led by APL and the Bioeconomy Information Sharing and Analysis Center, highlighted the complex challenges associated with identifying, characterizing and responding to threats in the bioeconomy. Vulnerabilities to national and digital security are increasingly pervasive.

Participants were guided though a hypothetical scenario that placed them at the center of decision-making in response to a fictional growing domestic outbreak of a highly pathogenic virus, for which there were no licensed medical therapeutics or vaccines. At the start of the exercise, a fictional private company successfully received emergency use authorization for its vaccine.

As more information was revealed to participants through a series of modules, participants had to reckon with confidential information leaks, manipulated databases, misinformation campaigns and potentially compromised laboratory equipment. The narrative was constructed to highlight the complex challenges associated with identifying, characterizing and responding to digital threats in the bioeconomy.

The exercise revealed four key areas of action to ensure a safe and secure bioeconomy: trust, awareness, responsibility and preparedness.

“The complexity of the response required from both the public and private sectors in a time of need is truly daunting,” said Charles Fracchia, co-founder and chairman of the board at BIO-ISAC. “This exercise highlighted the needs in mapping out authorities, establishing high-trust support networks and connecting channels for information sharing. They are critical for the safe operation and defense of the whole bioeconomy, from health and public health to biotech and agriculture.”

The report is available at www.jhuapl.edu/sites/default/files/2023-11/Going-Viral-Bioeconomy-Defense.pdf.