BRIEFER: Key U.S. Initiatives for Addressing Biological Threats Part 6

By Dr. Rohit Chitale, Dr. Yong-Bee Lim, and Lillian Parr

Today the Nolan Center, an institute of the Council on Strategic Risks, is releasing its sixth briefer in its series Key U.S. Initiatives for Addressing Biological Threats, which focuses on the U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). 

COVID-19, the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, has clearly demonstrated that the United States is vulnerable to biological threats of pandemic scale. Unfortunately, this awareness has come at exceptionally high costs when calculated in lives lost and the severely compromised welfare of American citizens.

However, the pandemic has also reinforced the aphorism that necessity is the mother of invention – shining a light on numerous examples of governments making the impossible possible. In the midst of COVID-19, one such example can be seen in the forward thinking work conducted by DARPA. Through heavy focus and investment in 2012 in a program called ADEPT:PROTECT, DARPA was instrumental in exploring the use of messenger RNA (mRNA) as a platform to deliver “antibody-making instructions” against specific diseases: the very technology that the United States leveraged through the $40 billion Operation Warp Speed to rapidly accelerate the creation, testing, production, and distribution of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines around the globe.

As government agencies evaluate lessons from the ongoing pandemic, it is important to consider how to best leverage DARPA to address future biological threats and avoid strategic surprise. Further, it is important to delve into the organization itself in a bid to optimize its performance against rapidly-evolving biological threats of the future from natural and anthropogenic sources.

This is the focus of CSR’s sixth briefer in the series. In it, we highlight how DARPA has achieved past successes, and propose several recommendations to maximize the capabilities of DARPA for addressing biological threats:

  • Strong leadership that focuses on high-risk, high-reward research is necessary to lead DARPA in addressing the most pressing threats to national security and Servicemembers.
  • Have both top-down and bottom-up approaches with organizational structure.
  • Improve funding mechanisms and sources to best allocate resources for promising research.
  • Balance the high-churn that characterizes DARPA with extended timelines for DARPA Office Directors and Program Managers.
  • And more.

Read the full briefer here.


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