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Report launch: overcoming challenges with synthetic nucleic acid screening implementation

By Cassidy Nelson and Sophie Rose, Centre for Long-Term Resilience

Read the full report here:

Synthetic Nucleic Acid Screening - Overcoming challenges with implementation [Website copy
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In October 2023, The Centre for Long-Term Resilience’s Biosecurity Policy Unit brought together stakeholders across academia, policy and the private sector to run a workshop for the UK Government’s Department of Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) on overcoming challenges with synthetic nucleic acid screening.

We’re excited to highlight a new publication summarising the workshop’s key findings, including the technical and policy challenges associated with screening implementation, as well as recommendations to address these.

The report includes:

  • An overview of the current screening landscape, including expert views on the US HHS Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response’s updated Screening Framework Guidance

  • Industry perspectives on screening requirements

  • Key challenges identified for implementation

  • Recommendations for Government, outlining a stepwise process that could be used to achieve robust customer and sequence screening whilst minimising adverse market effects 

The report makes several recommendations for strengthening the UK’s screening landscape, which are categorised into four stepwise stages:

(1) Develop guidance on screening processes in the UK: Establishing baseline standards for current customer and sequence screening, and clarifying processes for reporting suspicious orders could enhance the security of the UK’s screening landscape.

(2) Develop infrastructure and provide resources to support screening: Government provision of resources to support screening implementation, including screening databases and suspicious order reporting databases, would alleviate the burden on Providers, minimising market impact.

(3) Identify best practice: The UK Government can incentivise work to develop screening tool performance standards and test sets, and establish red teaming exercises, all of which facilitate the identification of best practices for customer and sequence screening. 

(4) Establish a legal requirement to screen and introduce incentives to ensure effective implementation: With the appropriate infrastructure and evidence base for screening best practices established, the UK Government will be well-positioned to compel robust and nationwide screening, through mandating screening practices and introducing financial incentives to facilitate compliance.

Our goal with this work was to increase the security of the UK screening landscape while minimising the burden on Providers and adverse effects on the UK’s current and future bioeconomy.

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