In this nearly 4-hour SPECIAL EPISODE, Rob Reid delivers a 100-minute monologue (broken up into 4 segments, and interleaved with discussions with Sam) about the looming danger of a man-made pandemic, caused by an artificially-modified pathogen. The risk of this occurring is far higher and nearer-term than almost anyone realizes.
Rob explains the science and motivations that could produce such a catastrophe and explores the steps that society must start taking today to prevent it. These measures are concrete, affordable, and scientifically fascinating—and almost all of them are applicable to future, natural pandemics as well. So if we take most of them, the odds of a future Covid-like outbreak would plummet—a priceless collateral benefit.
SUBSCRIBE to gain access to all full-length episodes at samharris.org/subscribe.
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Imagine we're in another pandemic, and the disease has been done
really engineered to be more? Can
ages and weigh more lethal than covered nineteen. That's right! It's a man made pandemic and the virus is so deadly. It kills roughly half the people and in facts so few your spouse catch it. At least one of you will probably die, and maybe you both will likewise any other dual. You and your best friend you in your kid, the president and vice president and an uncontrollable outbreak, is under way next
in this outbreak sweeping through a power plant did the light stay on with half the staff dead or dying in the other half thinking there next, and if the power goes out, how do we reached the inner
and when no internet, how do we find out well practically any
saying that we need to know to navigate this unprecedented existential threat.
Now imagine you're a frontline worker at the power plant or caring for the sick or delivering food people are getting wiped out at fifty to a hundred times the rate of covert it's a coin toss as to whether you'll survive. If you get sick,
Do you report to work, or do you hunkered down with your loved ones at home until you all
really hungry supply chains disintegrate in situations like this. The grocery stores that actually open, sell out not just add a toilet paper, and they don't get restart and pretty much. Everything else disintegrates too, for all of its horror, covert, hasn't shut down the power, the water law enforcement or the flow of
formation, but something this lethal could just shut them all doubt and well. You may be more imaginative than I am. I just can't picture civilization surviving an encounter with something this deadly and the problem is we're on.
Collision course with some version of the scenario hi, I'm robbery,
and I ve been worried about artificially modified viruses for a few years now, my back
Is that I'm a long time tech entrepreneur who went on to become a writer? I write science fiction for Random House
and am also science, writer and science pod a while back. I wrote for articles for media about artificial pandemics and other subjects,
that led to an episode on my own podcast, which is called the after on, had cast it mostly considers fairly deep scientific issues in ways that non experts can follow.
That particular episode was a conversation with a sinker and entrepreneur Naval Ravikant, and it led directly to a talk that I gave on the TED conferences
main stage about a year and a half ago, I'll be Inter
waiting some of that earlier work here and then building
in this short series in the course of that I believe,
ah persuade you than an engineer pandemic will almost inevitably happen eventually, unless we take
and very serious preventive steps and I'll tell you again
They what their steps are, will also talk about. The science and techniques that are at play here about the sorts of people who might
We want to inflict a pandemic on the world and what drives them, but first, a big spoiler may not sound like one, but I'm an incurable optimist. I wouldn't be too
when you are this, I wasn't convince the story can have a happy ending and more than anything this year,
about navigating about navigating our way toward one out with the string,
claim claim that we actually got rather lucky with not in an absolute sense. Obviously, this is clearly the most.
Horrifying year, humanity's endured and quite some time, but compared to what might have happened in terms of sheer deadline us now? I say this with a that that it's hard to know exactly how deadly covert is in percentage terms. We can't just use simple ratios of deaths to officially reported cases, because huge numbers of cases never get diagnosed. Many people who catch covered never get symptoms for one thing and for those who do get sick testing capacity is notoriously inadequate, so countless cases go undetected, but adjusting for all this murky US, the World Health Organisation estimates that between a half a priest
and one percent of infected people die and in many age groups it's a tiny fraction of one percent, and I'm saying we got lucky because there is no biological reason why the death rate had to be this low. I mean take Sars. It killed about ten percent of the people at infected, that's an order of magnitude worse than covet, and we were lucky with Sars to and that peace
got so obviously sex. So fast patients were easy to identifying quarantine before they spread the disease very far, so fewer than a thousand people died of it,
but if Sars had been like covered and spread like mad, when people were still asymptomatic or thought they just had a cold
we'd be living in a very different and badly diminished world right now, and Sars is a kitten compared to Middle EAST respiratory syndrome or mergers, which kills over a third of its victims,
so we're incredibly lucky murders just doesn't happen to be very contagious
and then Morris mild compared to each five and one flu which kills about sixty percent of the people who catch hit me
in it even deadlier than a bowler? So, thank God,
its insanely hard to catch
when me hard, while the work
health organization, tallied every instance of one over a decade and came up with just six hundred and thirty cases, and three hundred and seventy five deaths to put that scale in perspective. Lightning kills about sixty thousand people in a typical decade, so each five m one is barely contagious at all in its natural form that is, but in Fort
Lee, there's an artificial form of each five one as well. It exists because, several years ago some scientists started poking at the virus and hopes of understanding just how dangerous it could be. Since it was plenty deadly but barely transmissible, they set out to create it can
he just form of it, and you heard me right: they deliver
we produced an artificial version of this ghastly virus with a terrifyingly high potential to spread easily between people
This incident is the basis of the grim pandemic scenario. I opened with a contagious modified form of one killing, half the people. It infects.
The researchers made this monster by manipulating its genes by passing the virus between several generations of ferrets ferrets being common standards.
Humans and virus research, eventually,
had a strain the could pass from fair to ferret without any contact through the air. The head of the dutch team RON, fancier candidly, admitted that its creation,
was quote probably one of the most dangerous viruses you can make over in the? U S, the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, didn't disagree in a press statement. It said that the modified virus
release could result, in quote
unimaginable catastrophe for which the world is inadequately prepared coming from an organization
not known for drama. The words unimaginable catastrophe are
own, showing, if that's not scary enough for you I'll at that
work was done in the world's most secure lapse, literally because both their Wisconsin and HOLLAND Facility
certified biosafety level, three, which is a big notch below the top rating of biosafety level. Four, this isn't very reassuring. Given the history of deadly substances erupting from profoundly secure labs, labs, think of the
the tax of two thousand and one when the lethal spores found their way from a. U S. Army lab to the offices of
Senate Majority leader organs
that the last person killed by smallpox caught it because a british lab at the bug escape after decades of globally coordinated efforts had eradicated it from the entire planet or consider Britain's two thousand?
in seven foot and mouth disease outbreak, which began with the leak from a bio safety level for lab incidents like these make it blindingly clear that any pathogen can potentially escape from any lab? Because
Humans are fallible and so were labs of any biosafety level. Knowing these facts, what kind
person brings into existence a pandemic, ready bug that could be a hundred times deadlier than covet. That could kill a majority of the people in facts and perhaps be wildly contagious in this case, not evil people. These were virologist
Who thought their research would help us face subsequent natural mutations in H, five n one, but they were shooting dice with our future and given their equipment and sophistication, they didn't need to ask any outsiders permission to do
that they may have run things by an internal review board of some kind
but they only needed outside permission to publish the results once they were done and they did encounter some speed bumps on that front, but no regulator, no job
No outside body of neutral citizens was in a position to say: don't you dare take that gamble have her small. It may be on humanity's future to say your judgment alone does not
you clearance to perhaps but millions of lives on your assistant,
Or on your lab not being just a little bit imperfect. I call this sort of thing privatizing the apocalypse,
by this I mean that, at the dawn of the cold war, playing chicken with doomsday went
being something? No one could do, because it was impossible with pre atomic weapons to something that two people could do: Kennedy in Khrushchev, Nixon in Brezhnev Reagan and Gorbachev, etc. This transition Trump
ties generations, but the leaders represented giant countries with hundreds of millions of citizens which meet
active, risking annihilation, perverse form of public good. This approximate situation is still
and there's obviously plenty to dislike about that, but it
we only need to keep a fairly low number of decision makers in line people who spend years looking after a nation's well be
who have major international obligations they hopefully take somewhat seriously and who are subject to certain checks, balances and fail saves none of that's true for an autonomous researcher, running a lad who decides that make an apocalyptic pathogen and the general name of science, even if the odds of escaping or small, the decision to play chicken with doomsday has effectively been privatized, which is plenty
scary when the folks who get to toss the dice in these situations are very few and far between and are generally you no good guys like cowboy hats, but his will soon discuss the casinos about to throw the doors wide open, not because anyone thinks that's a good idea. Very few people even considered this issue, which is a big part of the problem, but rather because relentless advances in technology are about to make these kinds of Campbell
and these kinds of potentially genocidal powers very widely available to far more people than we can keep an eye on and to people. We can't keep in line by threatening with risk slaps like delaying publication of their research papers in the next section of this podcast. We'll will talk about the terrifying proliferation of doomsday powers and who might abuse them, and why, but for now consider the landscape. This is happening in cove. Is our dress rehearsal for handling something much worse and in lots of places, certainly including
the United States. It's been one of the most disastrous dress rehearsals in the history of theater. It's like half the actors forgot all their lines. A quarter got bizarrely doctored scripts.
To have them saying and doing the opposite of what are supposed to do? The lights of caught fire half the costumes didn't show up and diseases spreading throughout the cast to step out of the dress rehearsal analogy. I am referring to things like the ongoing disaster connected to adequate coded testing and timely
are early. Lack of Ppe are all about nonexistent contact, tracing the lethal politicization of slowing infection via masks, etc, and in October it-
coral. The normally sober and understated New England Journal of Medicine frankly stated that quote. The magnitude of this failure is astonishing and remember. This is just a dress, rehearsal, opening
it is coming, which means that, as we do the post mortem on the spot for hersel its vital that we,
our planning monopoly for the next pandemic that we start thinking obsessive Lee about all the cannonballs. We ve had the great fortune to partially dodge lately that we
consider the the next set of cannonballs, which are inevitably on their way and that we,
We acknowledge that no one's luck lasts forever. For one thing: the rate of disease,
jumping over from animals to the human population is rising dramatically, as we incred
ever more natural habitats, so nature is taking part shots at us with increasing frequency,
As for artificial viruses, theirs
Reason, though, Headset Natures relic
if we leisurely recent pace of one danger scare every five to ten years, because the cadence will be determined by the people behind them all. This means that humanity's future depends on keeping our guard up. If and when we put carbon nineteen into the grave, and I mean weigh up preparing for absolute worst case scenarios,
natural pandemics are random case scenarios, because evolution is driven by blind chance, but nothing will be random about a virus designed by malicious and murderous party.
Unfortunately, we don't have a great track record for keeping our guard up after a major disease scare has passed, despite all the close calls of
years, civilian biosecurity funding fell by twenty seven percent between twenty fifteen and twenty nineteen. According to the economist magazine,
meanwhile, governments have an exactly inspired the private sector to carry the ball. The economist also tells us that, after the Swine flu Pandemic petered out
european and american governments reneged on contracts with vaccine makers. Leave
them hundreds of millions of dollars in the whole. Speaking to the New York Times, virologist Peter Dashing summed up the situation. Saying quote the problem, isn't that prevention was impossible. It was very possible, but we didn't do it. Governments thought it was too expensive. Pharmaceutical companies
operate for profit? In light of this, we should consider the finale one of the most popular TED talks of all time in which Bill gates warns against the dangers of complacency. He wrapped
by saying, if anything good can result from the current outbreak quote, it's that it concerns
as an early warning. A wake up call to get ready. If we start now,
we can be ready for the next epidemic. Unfortunately, gates didn't get his wish, because
as many of you probably know, he wasn't talking about covered Covid Bebola. That talk was recorded over five years ago and, of course, we were far far from ready for the corona virus outbreak that followed it. Now, as I set up front, there are many steps we can take to dramatically increase our resilience again
pandemics, both natural and unnatural, and although we have a history of hitting the snooze bar hard enough to scatter alarm clock fragments into the next county, the wake up call we're getting from covered is uniquely thunderous in response to it,
I say we take inspiration from the ways our own bodies, fight off infections and build a glue
immune system do identify and destroy deadly new diseases on a planetary basis. This system can be
dry and adaptive just like the ones that are bloodstreams, we'll talk about the components such as system might have, and the FAO.
Fascinating science and technologies underpinning each of them, and I think you'll agree that if we finally heed the warnings
nature has been sending an recently
and we re sending to us, we can advocate this danger bottom line
take only one thing away from the series. I want you to understand that a catastrophic candy
Macao is heading our way, but it's not too late to prevent its arrival. If we can push our policy makers to rally to this challenge
ok, raw that was terrifying, she's, so low before we.
Jump into the topic of pandemic,
ex engineered and perhaps natural, let's just get it.
But if your background here, how did you come to be interested in this and I know
of a generic interest in science as a science fiction writer, but how
Did you come to be worried about this particular topic of the catastrophic risk posed by
intentionally engineered pandemic like s sleep
earliest threat. That actually goes all the way back to when you, and I overlapped briefly, is Stanford under grads. At the time I was studying a tunnel
arabic and middle eastern history and after graduating I went to Cairo on a Fulbright, fellowship rice
and a year doing research on the secular opposition, people who are pushing for a non religious
non dictatorial government faction, whose political errors ultimately to a great extent led Egypt, Arab Spring Revolt, although they didn't actually gain any power from that long story and one person that I spent a lot of time with back then was a guy named Rog photo who was Egypt's most prominent secularist at the time and the fundamentalists hated him because he was vocal. He was for a non religious government,
and he was really brave and really tragically not long after my year in Tyra, wrapped up frog was assassinated and that kicked off a ghastly wave of terrorism that Egypt endured throughout the night
these and you know beyond, and it was really big shift because they didn't almost no terrorism need Europe's four years prior to that, and really is a direct result of that. I got in a very focused on terrorism as an issue, and that's the focus that that persists to this day fast forward. You know significantly, I found it a company that created the Rhapsody music service, which some of you, your listeners, might be familiar with and
although that's unrelated just give it a quick side. Note rhapsody for those who don't know it, it's pretty fair to say, was the first Spotify after I saw that I really became sort of it to fisted person. I'm attack investors with some of my time,
but I'm also also of kind of a media, creative type of person and written a few books. Couple of are science fiction novels for Random House and when I was writing the second science fiction, novel book called after on, I delved into a whole bunch of the technologies that will be talking today, particularly synthetic biology. There was a subplot, the story that was connected to a Syn bioterror attack, and when the book came out, I decided to do what I thought would be a very
limited podcast series just going deeper into the science of the various things that were in this science fiction, novel and in that pod casts ended up taking on a life of its own, and I've got another fifth over fifty episodes, quite a few with leading lights and synthetic biology. So that's really where the
friend came in here. Will one thing that one gets from Urim discussion
As far as that
really can be a matter of relying on
there being no one willing to do this sort of thing
there's a level of incredulity cycle
logically that one has to cut through here. We,
think about who is going to want to unleash a catastrophic pandemic
upon the whole world. For some reason it takes
some convincing for people to acknowledge that
Not only will there all
These be someone
there will always be many people who will aspire to do
sort of thing and many you know you know,
hand as many but their power.
Probably hundreds, if not thousands
any generation who would be
willing to do such a thing and therefore it
can't be a matter of messaging successfully to these people changing their minds, preventing thee
the wrong means from lodging in their brains.
The means are already there, and therefore we
have to fundamentally make acquiring
technology so difficult
to dial down the probability that this will ever happen. So, as things stand now we're on a collision course
would the democratizing of this kind of technology. Where shall we start here to absorb this initial lessen? The first thing to think about is what kinds of things can we do to make the near future tools that lets say a less sophisticated person. Somebody who's, not a top mine and synthetic biology, might be able to turn to and ten fifteen twenty years tools. That will be able to do things that the entire project of synthetic biology can't possum
we do today and what we need to do is to really exercise our imaginations about what tools like that could possibly do in a short period of time, because I would argue that there is a very different level of moral responsibility on inventors and scientists and regulators when we're starting to develop and handle a potentially catastrophic exponential technology. Exponential being that the
something that can go in radically unexpected places. In short, number of years, the more handling a normal, dangerous technology city use somewhat silly exam
the whoever the medieval chinese blacksmith was, who first invented a firearm. We don't blame that person for mass shootings, mass shootings approached us at an incredibly slow speed over centuries, meaning was. It was on us to dodge those literal bullets and not, and we could have done things to make.
Difficult and rare, like keeping guns out of private hands. Now I don't want to dive into a second amendment discussion because it could last for hours I'll just say that, whatever your position on gun rights, we can agree that
society, had ample time to decide whether or not
shootings are a reasonable price to pay for today's policy. The situation did not sneak up on us at an exponential pace, but it's very different when something's improving a thousand thousandfold in a few years, because while it's impossible for anyone to definitively predict where that trajectory is going to lead the people closest to the technology,
Do you have a much better shouted at than the rest of us, which puts a particular moral weight on them to ask what rapid changes could end up? Ambushes society that just doesn't see seem coming. So one example of this: the: U S, department of Health and Human services includes in its huge grip the cities
the FDA, the National Institutes of Health and clearly has all the intellectual and technical firepower. It needs to be profoundly informed about synthetic biology,
but it was the h h, ass of all entities that posted the nineteen eighteen flew genome to the internet in two thousand and five, when smart people like Ray Kurzweil, whose basically the godfather of exponential
king, who really came out stridently against doing that, could have easily told them that this information might be catastrophically weapon ized within a couple of decades, and we can't keep having failures like that, which means private, sexually
Here's need to use their imaginations a lot and academics a lot about worst case scenarios we very transparent about them
and self regulate more than any industry and history, and meanwhile governments,
have to be unbelievably smart about synthetic biology and biology and they have to monitor the industry relentlessly, have to regulate dangerous practices
coordinated international level and I'm a gen
the very free market, oriented persons- I dont say any of this lightly. But this sort of thing
it's just necessary when we have a wildly promising exponential technology that we want to nurture and benefit from, but which also has a cataclysm downside end. The funny thing is that we don't really have a good precedent or analogy that we can turn shoe to guide us. This wasn't the case with digital technology, another exponential technology
we think of Super AI risk. Today computing pose no innate existential risk for its first fifty plus years. It could surprise could to and us
with astounding unforeseen developments for years in a row, no real downside. So we just don't have a good historic map to turn to you for guidance here
You are recording this.
During the hopefully the waning days of the Covid nineteen pandemic. Let's hope
Are we're in this frustrating
the valley of knowing that
Maxine is: is everywhere sitting on shelves and its being administered at a
a shockingly leisurely pace. California was just stood declared, the the
First stayed in the nation with respect and letting the velocity of its vaccination Programme federation
how we achieve that is, is anybody's, guess, but dumb
many of us have drawn the lesson here that we have
comparatively benign pandemic.
It almost couldn't be
more benign right, you know it's worse.
Then flew and then perhaps tenfold worse than flu, but it is,
still killing at most one percent of people infected and disproportionately elderly people,
so the impact or something tenfold more lethal or more, is really
difficult to picture
or rather its easy to picture. How catastrophic that would be
because, I'm not alone in thinking that this is a dress rehearsal. We've experienced for something quite a bit. Worse and we have just manifestly failed- this dress rehearsal, our response to Covid has been
abysmal and it's been abysmal, even though the scientific response has been amazing. The public health response has been
As inept as you could have ever feared, but these the research response
molecular biology response. The vaccine production response has been,
in the modern, a vaccine was created. Apparently Buff
there was a single death in the US from Covid, it's
down in that we have the juxtaposition of that kind of technical competence and the
utter mismanagement of a public health response,
and, as we know and needs
get sidetracked by there's been a layer of
and chaos that in part, explain
how bad we are this, but none
Figure out how to produce masks at scale, it seems or Q tips
so we have supply chain problems been, is co,
muscle, embarrassment and excruciatingly.
Consequential one, given the body count and again this is about as
easy going a pandemic as we could have hoped for. So what
lessened you draw from this, given that
what would be engineered in it, would very low.
Be quite a bit worse
and, as we know as you, you ve discussed
and will discuss further in the series,
There are natural variants of diseases that we were. There were all
Eddie worried about which are quite a bit worse than
covered, and it's just by sheer luck that they haven't spread.
More efficiently than they have said
we know that also
everything on the menu is worse than covered and yet
This is unmasked our near total inability to respond quickly to a challenge like this. To summarize all that, frankly, the private sector has covered itself in glory and in many countries, certainly including the United States. The public sector has covered itself and shame, and we do,
much much better than that, you mention order of magnitude. I actually think that's exactly the right way to think about hypothetical future diseases, because you know movements of twenty five. Fifty percent, indifferent networks are kind of hard to model out
but, let's think about order of magnitude along too metrics deadlines and transmits ability, which is to say, transmits ability how contagious diseases, because, particularly if there is an art,
official pandemic. We can rely on the malevolent designers of that to dial things up significantly beyond where covet is, and we also can't rely on nature, as you rightly point,
it out to keep things dialed down to where they are with carbon. So, let's start with deadlines as many
The recording the World Health Organization puts covets case, fatality rate somewhere between half a percent and one percent, so that could be dialed up by up to you
There's a magnitude want order magnitude in five to ten percent. Two orders of magnitude. It's fifty to one hundred and
as you know, that these are not unheard of numbers. Sars kills about ten percent of the people and in fact, age, five m one flew over fifty percent, so there is no biological reasons:
why the next pandemic, even if its natural necessarily has to top out at one percent fatality if its artificial, we can rely on a topic at higher
as for ability, the big number of courses are not, which is how many people, the average sick person and facts and without public health measures codes are not is two ish. Three is something like that estimates very: to get a sense of what it would be like if they are not was much higher. Think of them measle
whose are not can hit, I think the fifteen to twenty range unexampled can to do an elevator a minute or two after someone with covert leaves it
Almost all the Ursulines particles of the fond of the ground and you'll be extremely unlikely to catch covered. But if you
vaccinated for measles
sick person leaves an elevator two hours before you show up, you could very easily catch the measles.
So imagine a one order of magnitude, disease and transmits ability. Think of something is doubly his coat
currently is but as contagious as the meat of measles, the result of that. So
would would be virtually virtually everyone would catch
in very short order and we'd have an unbelievably hard landing into heard immunity. I think that would be absolutely ghastly. The death rate would go. North of covert is because hospitals would be overwhelmed, but I'm pretty confident civilization would sir,
As for the death rate, going up by one order of magnitude, five to ten percent, I'm still
confidence society would march on, but bit less so not because of what we do to people who were lucky enough to secluded home. They could probably still dodge the virus, but what he could do to supply chains like if there's a five to ten percent chance of death to meet packers show up at work
grocery store workers and if you start having food supply, outages, even small, anecdotal ones, just imagine
the pandemonium of hoarding?
that would ensue in the road warrior like scenes that would unfold in stores we could barely handle a toilet paper shortage, which itself is kind of like the game stop run up. I mean it was a reflection of proud psychology not of an actual supply chain break.
Still, I don't think, that's a civilization cancelling scenario either, but it be we more dangerous than what we're facing now
Those are two one order of magnitude diseases beyond cove it s for two orders of magnitude. All bets are off
I don't know of any one- shows up to work if there's a fifty to one hundred percent fatality rate or if there's an order of magnitude, jumpin fatality, combined with one in
transmit stability in that sort of scenarios, start worrying about staffing the electrical grid, because, if the power goes out for
the same period over national, greater God forbid, a global footprint, civilization teeters very, very quickly. So
There are ever is a wide outbreak and I'll come back to those words white outbreak. In a moment of a to order of magnitude disease,
only way society could possibly survive would be with very meticulous contingency plans that are drilled at local and national levels, and very very careful to keep power, food and law enforcement flowing plans which I'm sure we don't currently have
If now a much it was right behind the cue to plan and the maiden and ask plan exactly once once the cuter plan was was contingency plan d,
survivor do say, apocalyptic disease plan now, a much better.
Trinity to ever facing a wide outbreaks scenario would be to have an incredibly wrote.
Plus global immune system response to quash the disease, the instant it shows
on a radically improved global surveillance network which we're gonna talk about alive,
later in the series, so in any of it,
somewhere between one to two orders of magnitude distributed between deadlines and transmits ability. I do think civilization teeth
and there's no way we could survive at a wider outbreak. Much
More than one order of magnitude without are radically improved public health game
it's a couple, a thread I want to pick up on here. One is
distinction between natural and synthetic pandemics.
Focus on the synthetic possibility, but
really, everything you say is just as relevant to anything nature might cook up for us. I absolutely
ray, and also that, I think the boundary there is is a little bit
hurry, because even in
of natural pandemics. You still talking about human,
have you made any one is putting a bat on top of a panel and calling at lunch is
teasing out the
z, no viruses from
the womb of nature and that's one vector by
they get into our population. So we have to figure out how to
modify human behavior across the board so as to reduce
The likelihood of this kind of thing happening, and we already know that there are natural viruses and another pathogens,
that have very highly family and a single mutation could make them
super transmissible in ways that they're not currently
We know that nature is running that experiment continuously. This is the darwinian principle by which
things change there.
human behaviour that I think we do want to shine
a light on and very likely the lock and that is related to
the experimentation on eighty five and one that you discuss, and this is what
and goes by the name of gain a function: research where biologists in studying the highway
pathogen, might behave, can actually modifies genome such that it acquires
a different rates of transmits ability, say rights or something
that was not yet transmissible human to human become so.
And it is easy to see how
well intentioned people might think it wise to do such research, assuming they have
extraordinary confidence that they're not going to accidentally of the
pathogens out of their labs. But we know
so much about how difficult it is to be perfectly careful.
In an ongoing way that, after a few minutes of reflection, some of this research seems
your current view one day
by then one research that you began speaking about what
You made an important point, which is that gain a function. Research is done by well meaning people with some of the public health agenda. These aren't mad. Scientists are trying to prevent the worst things that could conceivably happens, so we can better prepare for them.
And the whole debate that the scientific community is had to a lesser degree, since society Writ large actually geared off of precisely this. Eighty five and one research that we have been discussing.
There was, and sundry remain, some confusion about the virulence and transmits ability of the aid
by then one modified viruses that were created, some have questioned the consistency of the state,
At least one of the researchers made
and also the transmissibility that the research achieve was in Paris, so we really have no idea how these viruses would behave in humans. Of course, they didn't infect humans. They could have been way worse than the fair results
when the Dodd we don't know so. For this reason,
I use the one incident both as a scary and thought provoking historic fact. I mean this happened and holy shit
but also as a bit of a metaphor like a touchstone for conversation and that what we can say,
is that a virus of unknown, but potentially catastrophic power resulted from Ghana function, work in two thousand and eleven using the technology that time
to assess what that means for our security. Now we need to consider the speed with which the tools and techniques of synthetic biology have been improving since twenty eleven in the degree to which they
spreading and we'll get in much more detail on that and then later section, but
What answer is these tools are improving with unbelievable speed and justice, rapid,
neither spreading to very large widespread levels and an academic biology beyond so
the original h, five n one in a function. Research was the roughest of prototypes for what's possible now for a much much larger group of people
Which makes any cloud and understanding of the human transmits ability of those original viruses kind of immaterial anyway to get back to what happened in twenty four
there was a series of blunders that the? U S, government committed in
relation to some scary pathogens and one incident some life
anthrax spores were mailed from one lab to another in another one really crazy live smallpox virus was discovered in forgotten
FDA storage facility and as
all of these and some other things concern wrapped up about deadly pathogens, and one result of this
a pause on government funding of gain a function. Research, emphasis on pause and government Funding Sakina function
and banned by any means. This judgment, the? U S, government itself wouldn't fund any of it and both of those projects
had some: U S, government funding. As for private research, there was, I think, that the
words were request for a voluntary moratorium on gain a function so nothing
a ban, and certainly nothing like enforcement, then
three years of careful thought, I'm sure the government put together some ethical
works and other things, government funding for gain a function was resumed. Think that was twenty seventeen and then in twenty nineteen funding. For the exact too,
eighty five and one research projects that we ve been discussing resumed so now
It's all systems go for a function as far as the US government's concerned and as for whether it should actually be practice. I've, given this a huge amount of thought- and I fully appreciate-
the conceptual value of anticipating the worst bugs that might arise, naturally by
developing them artificially first, but I still, despite that, do not believe gain a function. Research should be carried out at all
The first reason is that it is enormously possible that
nature will never get around to creating the ghastly things that we invent where they're going to function. Research
no highly contagious form of eighty five and one has ever manage to have all the cross. However many centuries so widespread gain a function, research will inevitably bring
God awful pathogens into existence that would never have existed otherwise, and why do that? But an even better reason to never do any gain a function. Research
Is, as you pointed out, no laboratory at any level of security can
holy immune from leakages and accidents and
Three shows this very, very clearly in it. If you'd like, I could run through a few quick and rather unfortunately chilling examples that illustrate that you're, the first one that I often draw attention to was a small pox leak that occurred back and nineteen. Seventy eight in the timing is ready
because just one year before that smallpox had been eradicated from the entire world after a heroic ten year effort and right before that eradication, effort to
people a year were dying from Smallpox Bell in the late after hundreds of millions had been killed in the first half of the century.
Yeah. Some five hundred million people died in the twentieth century from small crazy,
crazy numbers, and so
you can imagine the level of care and attention that must have been lavished on every remaining sample of smallpox one year
after the eradication, but nonetheless, smallpox managed to escape from a british lab at infected to people and killed,
them, so the last person in history to die of smallpox died as a result of a lab leakage and as for biosafety level for land
which is the very very highest level of biosafety by an international set of standards and biosafety
level for his extremely rare there on a lot of them in the world, so this is the pinnacle. We can look at a foot and mouth disease outbreak in or leakage rather in Britain, once again back in two thousand
seven and again, this timings relevant, because just a few years before that Britain's Catalan
we had suffered. A crippling foot and mouth outbreak,
so highly for foot and mouth in the UK. But despite that, the virus
literally leaked out of the spear sell for lab in
surrounding groundwater and then two weeks after that lab resume work. It happening
so we're at the piano,
Le Biosafety and country. That's been lighted by this disease
recently we have this lead and
I know that we really want to do gain a function, research into pathogens that might in peril
and by the way, many very level headed people believe that covered itself might have leaked out of a biosafety level.
For lab the Wuhan Institute Institute, Urology now now
dug deep enough into that. To fully for my own
when of view on whether that would have been leak or not, but Stephanie, not just the realm of the tinfoil hat crowd and then the last example, which is relevant for an additional set of reasons as if it's not grim enough is the anthrax attack of two thousand and one
killed five people. This was a week after nine eleven and envelopes containing anthrax spores showed up at some media outlets, as well as the offices of a couple senators, including the
that majority leader, transnational and as it
happens. I was in Dashwoods Office that weeks of this one's kind of seared into my memory, and it turns out that their spores came out of a
security. U S: Army, Bio Defence, lab, probably
at Fort Detrick in Maryland. Although some people think it might have been another army lab now, there's always,
going to be a swirl of mystery and conspiracy. Theory
around this one, because the FBI's means suspect actually killed himself before it
indictments are trials, but, regardless of who took the sport,
out of the lab it's hard to imagine a country at a higher
level of alert than the? U S after nine eleven per week after nine eleven and it's hard to
imagine a significantly more security minded and security capable organization than the? U S, military, and yet even
those circumstances anthrax made its way from the heart of the military industrial complex
into the office of the Senate Majority leader again, while proving two things one any facility can leak, but also showing us
that safety measures which are meant to prevent accidents are all but helpless against
malicious insider, because that's not the disaster scenario their designed around and you know the eye
of there being an unhinged insider, go up as you increase the number of places working with disastrous pathogens. The consequences go up as the pathogens, because
exponentially more terrifying than anthrax or even covered, which again leads us
The question why in the world would we ever do? Ghana function research
yeah. There's another variable here what you discuss throughout the series at the prospect that this
acknowledging will become increasingly democratized, and you have your high school students performing experiments that now the most
laboratories would struggle to perform because there's some desktop piece of technology
five, ten fifteen years from now that it embeds so much knowledge there.
You, don't even have to be a person in the field of, in this case, biology.
To do biological experiments that no team
currently or or few teams are currently capable of its view
you see how the consequences of this meddling we'll get away
from you and the idea that we are poised to spread
attack around to the level of high school students is fairly terrifying,
at the same time, there is
something that's undeniably cool about high school
students discovering things like synthetic biology and doing really cool things with it and so little bit of a sidetrack. The most vivid evidence
of Synbio technology and high schools. To me, something called the Igem competition.
And I is sort of an annual send bio Jamboree for students which spun out of MIT a while back
each year, thousands of students, grouped into several hundred teams, compete in creating
sort of little send bio marvels and those teams can
a great schools that come out of colleges and they do come out a high schools. I recently
I believe the list of last year's teams and I'd say about a quarter of them, came at a high schools and that the high school projects I read about included a virus testing system that delivers pcr like technology at home. She's not easy to do. Another was a field kid you could take out of the woods to test wild mushrooms for talks, ecology. So pretty sufficed
hated stuff coming out of today's high schools, and I do think I m it is a great thing, as I mentioned, and I dont think that we have to worry at this instant about a rogue high school kid doing something Catus
you was send by today, but we do have to appreciate that this is the end point
the academic transmission channels and its wide open,
the things that are only possible for today's tops in bio professors will rapidly defuse too smart grad student.
And then to smart, undergrad and then a smart, high, school kids and eventually to demonstrators right and we obviously
put a biosafety level for protection? You know prone
Poland. Every high school
so we either have to stop the diffusion of this technology, which I think would be tragic and also completely impossible, or
have to start building safeguards that selectively prevent dangerous practice.
Down the line which is tricky because aren't
missions reliably defeat us when exponential changes involved- and it is a famous question
whether it's better to have a million dollars or a penny that doubles every day for a month and our intuition,
scream take the million bucks, but it turns out the pennies and much better deal and, I believe,
We have this miss wiring, because our
Sesar simply never encountered exponential processes
they were living on the savanna and they are evolving on the Samantha.
They had to solve all kinds of the de facto newtonian physics problems.
When they went hunting when they fled predators when they were cracking things open so that
A mathematical intuition is very hard
into us, but not exponential processes. So, therefore, we have things like Hhs natively posting, the spanish flu,
genome to the world, and rather than laugh at that, we need to be unbelievably concerned about what information
and methodologies were putting out in the world today to spoil alert
little smidgen from section true, the recording, the awesomeness of this.
Speed of this advance and to me is best captured in looking back at the human genome project which lasted thirteen.
And cost about three billion dollars and ended in two thousand and three. So not an ancient history, at which point the team had
basically, read out a single human genome,
Today you can have your genome read not
three billion dollars, but for three hundred dollars and two up two thousand feet wasn't that long ago,
ten million one price drop. Yeah, that's flabbergasted, yeah,
and so that is the kind of pace of change that we are simply unaccustomed to dealing with that are an
s ears were utterly unaccustomed to dealing with that defeats are hard
intuitions inside go back to the point I made earlier that, though
who are deep in the process of creating this technology, have a much much higher moral weight on them to try to forecast the things that might
otherwise blind side, a society that doesn't see it coming and
you're really needs to be a symphony of coordination between academia
self regulating private industry, and really
Smart public health people to prevent catastrophic unforeseen circumstances,
Ok! Well, it will not surprise you to know that you have not yet made me an optimist, Rob but a happy
you ve got further installments in the series to try absolutely there's more to come and much more optimistic ones to come. We talked about the apocalyptic need
or of artificial pandemics. Now, let's consider the reason someone could possibly have four unleashing one do
this would almost certainly doom, the unleashing
if he doesn't die of his own awful disease. He ends up in a post, postapocalyptic hellscape that doesn't sound like a great incentive structure. So it's fair to question whether anyone would ever actually do such a thing.
A doctrine called mutual assured. Destruction comes to mind. It got us through the cold war,
and basically said that its nuclear slugfest when annihilate everyone, neither side, would start one
The policy had some hair
hiding holes in it, but you gotta admit here we still are meme
while a vial filled with an obliterating contagion has its own mad deterrence built into it. So we could trust the Soviets with thousands of nukes and it turns out we could who couldn't we trust with
While we have explored this issue in writing or in talks are interviews, I've come to gravitate towards a handful
examples that really help frame it on the question of
there. Anyone would ever unleash a doomsday virus. I often think of it
Las Vegas shooter, who murdered fifty eight concert in
twenty seventeen for starters, unlike
Soviet Union. He was come
it is self annihilation making him under terrible by nature, given that
would he have preferred to unleash something? A hundred times worse thing covered if he
somehow had that capability. Obviously
we don't know if you would have done that, but we should
can't say he wouldn't have. After all,
This guy, like countless other mass shooters, had no proven boundaries when it came to inflicting death and untold suffering.
As many strangers as possible,
is really no reason to think he even grazed the outer limits of the horror he would have liked to inflict so weak.
Can't say he didn't want to
civilization civilization. We can
say he didn't get to now. This
I, was no rocket scientist
Nor was he world class biologist in twenties,
nineteen, that meant he didn't get to have a vile full of deadly man made viruses
So we don't know what he would have done with one but here's. The thing I bet you didn't know
squat about ballistics either and that he couldn't
designed a semi automatic weapon any more than he could have wasted himself to Mars, but he D.
Get to have a private arsenal which illuminates a critical point, even if it takes geniuses decree
the technology and more geniuses translated into functional tools, it may only take us
lunkhead to operate those tools now at the front,
years of biology are generating extraordinary tools and for now they're both creed.
And operated by brilliant people
but there's no reason why this has to be the case forever. In fact, the tools and techniques in question are set to spread far and wide
which will discuss in a bed. But for now the key point. I also
Make when discussing this topic, is that once
Recital mass murderers really go all in technology. Is the force multiplier for
tech example of this. I often a series of school attacks that occurred in China several years ago. There was a rash of ten of them,
just like in the? U S, they were carried out with the deadliest things you could find in the local stores. But since this was China, that
semi automatic rifles, but things like knives and hammers and cleavers, just like the Vegas shooter. The ten attackers in China,
push their technology to its murderous limits, but all of them combined killed less than half as much
any victims as the vaguest shooter lump decide,
the other end of the tech spectrum consider the german wings pilot, who decided to end it all in twenty fifteen
He was an armed with a knife or a machine gun.
But with an Airbus three twenty
which he drove into a mountainside, killing everyone on board a lot more than
ices many peoples, the vaguest, shooter, who himself
killed more than any other mass shooter in history? So again,
hands of suicidal mass murderers technology.
Is the force multiplier
With this in mind, let's returned to the problem of artificial super bugs here. The question is whether someone can make a bug that could potentially kill at this.
Of a world war. One was already answered twice when there's two teams.
Maybe try than one flew contagious almost a decade ago. So there
The question now is how many people can create something diabolical, because as the group of people who can-
grows our ability to monitor and deter them vanishes to frame this
Let's we consider that situation and the cold war when just two heads of
aid held annihilating powers, the
ultimately spent trillions of dollars to monitor them and to deter.
From hitting the red button early warning systems, diplomacy fast, militaries, maintaining the balance of power,
missile stockpiles, so huge they could destroy the enemy even if he struck first etc. All this to deter just two people from doing the unthinkable, but what if we had to keep
the chieftains of thirty nuclear arsenals and lie, or a thousand
wouldn't be enough money or resources in the world to fund all that deterrence, so we're lucky
Two is such a low number were also like
that the heads of the superpowers were mostly serious, stable people who spent decker,
so really making their way to the top. Now we could pay.
What we say similar
brings about a very different dual. The two had research
who created the contagious form of h, five n one they were,
Elliot Biologists, the heads of labs. They had decent budgets, excellent equipment,
spent years cultivating their minds until they can.
Things that no scientists had done before a decade.
When they did their thing. The cadre of people who could
create genocidal pathogens was a pretty elite club.
With a really high emission standards ones.
We tend to weed out Lupi erratic people, but what effect club crows and the hurdles to joining it plummet,
then try to imagine an analogous world with thousands of sovereign nuclear powers to very unstable picture.
Now in the biology front, we're way past the point when just to wish
people in the world could groom above his deadly as the contagious form of age five, and why,
The reason is, a new branch of science called synthetic biology.
I'll call it send Bio from now on. For short,
what's known as an exponential technology. That means it gets more powerful and cheaper
rapidly compounding ways the output that cost a thousand bucks last year
plus five hundred a day two fifty next year and before we know it just pennies
when this goes on things, don't just get cheaper, but capabilities spread from nobody to a handful of people to masses of people. We ve all personally lived through this with complete.
Another exponential technology fifteen years ago, not
bill gates could casually place. Video calls from a cell phone, but today billions of people can
and I'm one of them
sure doesn't mean. I know more about computing than Bill gates new fifteen years ago. This sort of thing happens all the time with exponential technologies over just a few years. Complete non experts
Capabilities that were initially beyond the top people on the field. That's pretty cool when its video calls not so much when its unleashing an artificial disease,
to give a sense of house steep the experts,
curve is in biology. I always say,
the human genome project. It lasted thirteen years and cost about
three billion dollars when it ended in two,
thousand and three
team, had read and documented a single human genome. Today,
Have your genome read for three hundred dollars,
That's a ten million to one price drop in less than twenty years, so the impossible is now affordable and soon it'll be practically free.
Of course, lots of things are still extremely hard and send Bio for now only it
any handful of truly elite scientists, conjecture,
Viable replicating viruses from scratch just from genetic code, and it's a good
thing, that capability is so rare,
because the genomes of eradicated monsters like smallpox and the flu that killed fifty million people right after the first World WAR are up on the internet.
For anyone to download. And yes that means small
I can now be created from scratch.
By any one, with the skills and motivation to researchers. We
prove this point by synthesizing, the
closely related horse pox virus, which is extinct and harmless
with a hundred thousand dollar budget and some mail order. Dna. This definitively show that highly specialised scientists can now cook up some spy
parkes, but that elite monopoly won't. Last because rare capabilities,
finally become widespread when exponential technologies earned play again, think a video call
the trailblazers on the edge of sin, Bio tend to be brilliant career minded and
highly non murderous, but is the trail
its worn down and the tools get simpler, lower and lower levels of skill, expertise and long term debt.
Patients will be needed and at some point problem
fairly soon freshmen primo students will have homework assignment set the entire
field of sin Bio couldn't complete today
With this in mind, let's go back to that grim, subjective, suicidal mass murderers, the ones you
those chinese schools had simple tools and killed a couple dozen people between them
The guy who killed a lot more people than that in Vegas had guns which much
people than him designed to slaughter humans. The
filings pilot had a plane designed by people much smarter than him, and so on each killer.
The limits of his technology,
but there's no reason to think they hit the limits of their ambitions, none of them.
In a position to die while launching a pandemic, but once again
that doesn't mean none of them would have given the chance. It just means. None of them got to show how rare these sorts of peace.
These days- the? U s alone, averages over one mass shooting per day according to the gun,
an archive, a big proportion of the perpetrators are suicidal and a big fraction of that subgroup. Like the Vegas Shooter,
take every random stranger they can with them. We need to worry about this group. Is massively deadly technologies become widespread because, again, their death toll reveal the limits of their technology, not the limits of their
Last and no doubt some people in this category have no upper limits each year, this group is replenished as hundreds of people
throughout the world, go on a final deadly spree. Think of this kind,
this is being in a circle on events, diagram
very small and stable in size, but it's extremely significant.
Neighbouring circle or those who could trigger the deaths of millions of us if they really wanted to that circles.
Even smaller, its barely a speck but its growing. It used to include just a few heads of state, as we
then in twenty eleven, assuming their creation, was in fact contagious between humans, those
then one biologists entered it and these days quite a few more scientists are surely in that,
because in biology the heroically difficult feats of ten years ago,
or just a hell of a lot easier, now being able
technology is simply moving so fast. For instance, the wheel
most celebrated and prominent gene editing tool, which is called Christopher, didn't even exist when the h five n one flew, was modified, and today Crisprs taught in high schools and post crisper tools, which are even more powerful, are now cropping up,
are also proliferating. So again we have two circles and are then diagram. One contains the people who are gonna stop this year and kills many peoples they can and the other contains those who could kill millions of us
or more if they really wanted to that second circle
set to grow with insane speed? Do the proliferation of ever more powerful than biofuels and techniques, which means unless something changes. Those circles are gonna collide
and intersect and the world, will be home to someone who wants to kill us all and is capable
producing or obtaining an annihilating pathogen, the deadliness of that pathogen
could have absolutely no precedent because for all its faults, a bug like
Verona virus has nothing against us. Technically,
viruses aren't even alive.
And many deadly ones actually become less deadly over time because killing off all your hosts,
is no way to win the game of evolution
Natural viruses will never go out of their way to maximally harm us. They just want have ways to go out of
that wouldn't be true of someone who sits down to design a deadly virus. For instance, one thing that makes covered dangerous is that some people are
contagious without any symptoms. That periods thought the last few days. So why not extended to a month? The corona virus wont take that as a personal goal.
But a designer might a designer might also make something a hundred times deadlier than covet like a contagious form of h, five n one flu. Now this wouldn't be easy, but ease is a function of tools and
and we know the right tools of dna synthesis and editing or improving at breakneck speed, as this continues some profoundly skilled people
perfectly benign motives will probably
and some profoundly deadly things. They might be virologists
seeing biologists outer limits graduate students doing thesis projects militaries exploring with their enemies. My cook up counter terrorism units doing the same thing. I said
in almost all the people playing this game will be white had operators precisely because of the brilliance and resources it'll require at first
that doesn't mean their work can be dangerous. For starters, we already talked about
Many deadly bugs have found a way out
secure labs and they could,
so escaping nonphysical ways.
Because, although good guy scientists may make critters and petri dishes, they'll really be
creating tiny data files, the age five
one genome, it's just that a packet of information was just.
Ten thousand letters in it. That's nothing. A transcript of this recording would have way more letters than that and data networks get hacked constantly,
when they do, the significant files go missing, then get copied and copied and copied just ask any music label movie studio or fortune five hundred company, that let hackers get the intimate details of millions of customers like ask. Equifax
Now, when the first deadly genome get swiped and spread all over the dark web technology
may not be advanced enough for bad guy,
who are not lead scientists to do much with it, but the internet never forgets and a decade or two later the technology to synthesize genomes
could be a million times more powerful and in a million labs you see in checking the time variable between the brilliant good guy, who does the hardware
and a later bad guy who abuses that work is really
be stabilizing, because
while the bad guy may not be brilliant at all a couple
it could give them access to vastly more powerful tools that make up. For that again. Thank the vaguest shooter, who was no ballistics expert, but who stood on the shoulders of generations of them or think of whoever posted the genetic recipes of smallpox and the nineteen eighteen flew to the internet. They couldn't pie
simply have been thinking exponentially, which means they either couldn't imagined in your future, in which politicians of people could resurrect those diseases or they didn't bother. Try
With this in mind, please dial up your inner science fiction writer for a moment. Let's imagine it's. The intermediate future, a few decades out
and every high school by a lab. Has a bench top dna synthesizer
these already exists is, will soon discuss, but
can we not a high schools because their way too expensive, however, like the personal
computers of the nineteen seventies, we'll get much cheaper and better.
And it's hard to imagine their descendants won't and up and high schools. Now, let's imagine this highschool printer can crank out a complete corrected virus genome. If you and put input its genetic come. You can't do this with today's dna printers. They can only produce batches of about
Two thousand air corrected letters of dna, whereas viruses typically run in the low tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of letters, but history
shown that tend to one hundred ex improvements are fairly short walks and exponentially compounding technologies likes and Bio recall the ten.
Million improvement in reading dna in the eighteen years since the human genome project
next. Let's imagine that modern tools make the complex process of translating a genome into a viable replicating virus, easy enough for smart high school kids to master now everything I've described so far is so.
Possible, it verges on inevitable, given enough time, if not in this decade,
then a bit further out, and yet I have described
and all but impossible world because remember those genetic blueprints of smallpox and nineteen eighteen
who are already floating around the internet and colonel
he knows what other blueprints will eventually join them.
In our scenario, any smart, but disturb high school through Pooh stocks,
didn't, along with millions of people working Life Sciences, could start an outbreak that world just can't exist, or at least not for long. So we
need to do whatever it takes to avoid ending up on a glide path that leads to it. When I think of this kind of intermediate,
future suicidally murderous individuals worry me because the world pretty
so many of them groups where those motor
are much rarer, but they're, inherently scary to because groups can be way more.
Capable and formidable than individuals and some groups do
have bizarre urges to sweep the earth of humanity. There's plenty of doomsday calls out there and at some point one
get bored and decide to speed things along Japan's should meet. You called did this
gathered over a thousand members, including several biologists and meant to bring about the
end of the world, but the tools to do that
just born around in nineteen ninety five, so it made
it's big move with a Seren gas attack in the Tokyo subway. When the next um shinrikyo comes along, I doubt they'll limit their arsenals to deadly gases,
meanwhile environmental or maybe animal rights, extremists could decide,
that humanity doesn't deserve a future or consider the strange philosophy of anti NATO. Listen
which argues that human lives are so unpleasant. The ethical thing is to me:
nice a number of humans living them. For now. The people who think this way just try to avoid having children. But who knows where that can lead
the crazy motives we can imagine driving someone to launch a doomsday pandemic, our terrifyingly broad and that's not counting,
ones. We can't imagine mean
while the ways for dangerous well intentioned work to leak out or boundless. Ok, that's the bad news, but luckily there is a way out of this. That's a whole premise of this
serious, but before we get to the right way out, let's briefly discuss the wrong way out, which would be a technology ban, because we can't sobs and bio from advancing
we'd, be full to try. If a worldwide ban is enacted, could we really
China and Russia to respect it? Would they trust us? Could anyone trust, North Korea, unlike nuclear programmes, which require vast industrial complexes and can therefore can be monitored biology,
can be practiced. Almost invisibly, so swear off of sin, Bio and you're. Giving some
I synbio monopoly bio monopoly again North Korea. Korea is a really bad idea. Much more importantly, we shouldn't want to stop synbio in its tracks, because it's probably
is almost boundless it's already starting to revolutionize medicine and it's set to save.
Untold millions of lives it holds extraordinary. Powers
for the environment, in the form of crops that need less pesticides, biodegradable plastics and perhaps even by
fuel secreted by engineered microbes
it s. Some sigh wonders up its sleeve like clean meet. That's millennia
where we identical with the real stuff, but is produced without animals. So there's no suffering in factory farms in greenhouse gases are sharply cut,
in another giant reason to forego it send biotech can. Is that our group,
this allies will be people trained in this field and while a tiny handful of such p
almost inevitably go road as training proliferate
ever more broadly the rate
of allies. The enemies will be staggeringly high. In our favour, I mean think about it: the boy
being a good guys that Europe opposed to wiping out humanity hats,
As low as a bar gets so the
listen by experts the world creates the safer will be on a certain up. So how do we put the good guys to work and protect
us in the next part of the series we'll talk about the right way out of this predicament.
I'll come back with raw breed. That was section to rob
have raised this,
terrified memory of what smallpox did to the world and the prospect that it could be resurrected. What you're thinking there well I'd say that thing that, unfortunately, gives us confidence that some people out there could resume.
Smallpox today, they put their minds to it. Is someone recently created the harmless but closely related horse box virus from scratch?
They are very closely related, so if you can create one, you can absolutely create the other and in fact the researcher behind that indicated in one of his.
The views that part of the reason why he did this horse, pox work was to force the world to confront the possibility that smallpox could be resurrected, and so how many people could also create these viruses. In addition to this researchers data
David Evans today and you dont asking that I think there's two things to note. The first is that the horse pox work was done in twenty sixteen, so this is almost five years ago,
using the tools of its day and all kinds of sin, bio tools of improved dramatically since then
and secondly, it was done by a very talented team, which kind of constricts the group of people who could do this because of the time it was actually the largest
virus that had ever been assembled from scratch. So that was not a small thing to do so, who did this
said his name? Is David Evans and he's a virologist at the University of Alberta and when he is described as work publicly, both in a paper that he put out there and in interviews he's basically said two things:
of course, paraphrasing here one is it for good or for EL. The world's full of talented scientists who, like him, can stick together disparate bits of widely published knowledge to create things that don't have ready, made rest
he's on the internet, but he also said so. That's the bad news, but he also said that doing what he did would require advanced scientific training, a very specialized.
Lab and a fair amount of inside knowledge, all of which sure
was entirely true and twenty sixteen and all of which are equally sure, is less true. Today now I can't reliably place David Evans in the global constellation of virologists, but for what it's worth and take it with greatest.
I found what looks like a bottomless list of the world's most influential virologists online.
On a high ranking switch presumably includes things like academic citations and what not
and he wasn't listed in the top five hundred. So take that with a big green assault.
But it doesn't seem like he's the top in the in the world. So if we get,
from all that I would say the conjuring up the horse pox virus and therefore smallpox would probably be hard but doable for a high powered academic, biologist, who's really determined,
to do it and my got sense tells me that's probably hundreds of people in that category, so not thousands, but not mere dozens.
But that's a really high number. When you think of the terrifying power each of those people could potentially yield if they went off the rails. I mean we're
We are in a very real sense, counting on,
all of those people to never go Columbine,
The analogy to guns is not real.
During because gun,
do not have this. This exponential quality
write right that only kill as many peoples. You shoot it
Are you on a leash?
rounds of ammunition onto the world and they keep spreading and killing people, and we know where the trend lines.
For all of this technology. Really any technology tend to go, which is
bed the highly specialised knowledge that was required to create the Tec in the Tec itself, such that a person
without any real knowledge can use it.
Leverage all of that power to whatever end and so
as you pointed out, you don't have to be a master of engineering of any kind or ballistics to own the most powerful firearm.
Available and use it.
Sunday, you won't have to be a virologist to too
engineer a virus. If we don't managed to contain this technology,
yeah. A really scary thing you kind of touched on is just the open,
Of a sin. Bio attack mean every terrorist attack. We ve experience so far has had inherent limits
he let you know there's only somebody. People on an airplane is only so many people in a building, that's being attacked her. You know, there's only so many victims, one person can shoot before the cops show up but covered makes it.
Valiantly clear how open ended diseases damage can be
where you're into this thing, we still have no idea what the final bill is going to come to an end
it's also scary, is to think about what would it
Iverson Bio attack. Look like me. Let's see someone who's really smart and really determine who is completely mastered. The best biologic,
the tools that will be available. I don't let's say twenty years from now. What does that person sets out to cancel humanity and falls
Ninety nine point, nine percent short of that goal. Then that's eight million dead.
And just imagine how the? U S would react to an attack that kills on that scale. Proportion,
in the? U S mean just the guy. We reacted to nine eleven in which killed fewer people than covered currently kills on a bad day. I mean to
war is costing trillions of dollars. Civil liberty ramifications. You know the scary thing is that not only can we not afford to some
for a successful since violent attack, but we probably can't afford to experience it failed one.
Here again. The analogy from covert is depressing because this is
asked about as benign
you can imagine, while being worse than me
ambient level of contagion.
Already there. You know, I'm in a psychic. This work any more benign we
barely notice it right Moran and has brought global civilization,
a standstill. We don't
with the ultimate bill will be
No, but we know it is
certainly more than a million dead, globally and trillions of dollars. And again. This is just
You know if it were any more like flu, it would be the flu, and so it some yeah just anything that would be
properly weapon eyes, with an intend to kill as many people as possible. You have to
Imagine you know this is
dad scenario and it still scarcely tolerable,
so I know what we're talking about by definition, people who would in tend to harm vast numbers of people by doing something in this space
the prospect that this can happen by accident is something we ve touched on in an that's, also terror,
fine, but you're here we're talking about the most malicious case
Who are we imagining? What do such a thing? You'll? It's it's
interesting question, and this obviously really important one, and what I personally go back and forth about is- is the risk greater
from Lone Wolf individuals, or
is the risk, ultimately greater from groups of individuals from organized groups and
On the one hand, groups are obviously way more dangerous on a one to one basis like if we compare a single group
to a single individual with an identical goal, because obviously, unlike the individual, that group of five people, let's say, can be five places at once. It can pool expertise,
that might be hard to find in a single person, you can pull resources there, just countless advantages, but
The thing is: it's not really a one to one comparison, because Lone Wolf operators are just way more common
when it comes to suicide attacks, even if we include suicide bombings, which are the works of groups in those two tests
Ex Lone Wolf suicide attacks are way more common. I mean we had more than one mass shooting per day in the U S last year, many of which were so,
side attacks, and almost all of which were
Both operations me things like Columbine, we have multiple shooters coordinating are incredibly rare,
so, I worry about groups because of their capabilities, but I work
bout loan wolves because of just sheer numbers at its also hard define groups in history that have been cut
total to total annihilation. The only the only one I can think of mission Reque and I and
about even ISIS, as leaders would have been horror,
fired on their worst day by a plan to exterminate humane.
I kind of idealism is just much easier to imagine.
Hinged individual than an organised group. But that said groups art
really historically known for focusing on trying to do things that are utterly impossible on a technological basis, which has been the case
with total annihilation up until now. Thank god- and there are schools of thought that might just be a few
deranged steps away from considering that like should we be
read about what the outer fringes of the environmental movement
the animal rights movement- my do let's say ten years from now, if they think they can create an off switch for humanity or maybe a particularly unhinged group of Anti,
it lists. Yeah now divide this more or less it.
As you have into her too
possibilities one is ideological and that is more or less
you would need to have a group. Do anything like that. There has to be a belief system, some kind of doctrine that make sense of this kind of apocalyptic genocidal
behavior and and suicidal behaviour. Unless you ve also been vaccinated yourself against this pathogen, which is
suppose also possibility, although then were were imagining.
Very competent people. Doing this right, sober
in the case of a lone wolf it. I guess it could
know, one person can have a rationale for what they're doing that may seem.
Consistent to them, and they they may be alone in doing it, but their solemn,
maybe more ways for people to just snap.
And it doesn't even have to make sense right and their equipped with this text.
far more dangerous than a school shooter right,
He may have some internal stories. Why he's doing what he's doing? But it doesn't need to be of the sort that,
we saw with someone like the Unabomber who published a day
hey disconcerting, we coherent manifesto eight, and that was
he was a group of one centrally
They really are very different problem
even though they're terminating,
in the same way. I know this from the space of just having to deal with
crazy idea, logs and crazy people,
more than I would want you know, and so that you can have people who then there are ten,
toward you, based on there
ideology that disagrees with with you and they could
size you and attack you and, in the worst case, pose a security problem. But then
just crazy people who think you're sending messages right and as a completely different problem,
think about it and try to mitigate and when you're talking about
really democratizing this tack and put
in it in the hands of people who could be started,
delusional yeah. We clearly
to find some way of
closing the door to this yeah. It's interesting to think of that starkly delusional side of it. I mean the kind of one shilling example, though, if you remember the guy who shot up the movie theater in Colorado, there was a Batman premier addressed as a joke
her, he was like a you know it Phd candidate. I want a neurosurgeon some biological science with with an air and age grant, so that love
of delusion can actually penetrate into fairly high academic circles, and then is the technology proliferates into ever lower circles. You know that high bar
matters less and less, and I never really thought of this before, but I guess an interesting question to ask ourselves
I just have no idea what percentage of that Daily Mass shooter population in the? U S, for example, is act
Please gets a frantic or in some ways, deeply delusional
should know that, as as a society- and I think you know, if we kind of follow the logic of all, this
We start realising that suicidal
mass murder could absolutely begin to pose a national security risk. And if we look at it through that lends, we should probably be treating every mass shooting kind of the way we treat
you know the crash of an airliner with an incredibly serious effort to figure out exactly what went wrong and what are the aspects of this case that you know
I have provided warning signs and really get a real epidemiology of this phenomenon and
I don't know that we're not doing that, but I don't believe that we're doing that and it's something that we really to understand a lot better yeah
that airline crash. He reference the german wings flight when it were a pilot, it seems all, but certain intentionally crash the plane.
I mean that's one of those cases where this is a sort of murder.
Suicide that most people have never even thought about. Roma is one of the most horrific things you can imagine.
But it's you can see how it's a very
case where, as you can see someone being, I would imagine in this case- suicidally depressed
set, some one in that condition which might be capable of doing something like that added gotta. Think it please
and psychologically as different, then arming yourself and
went up at a school and shooting people to different act
It is, in fact, a more murderous one, but it is a more absence.
Act one in some ways from me.
You would imagine from the point of view of the pilot right, a pilot
experience is he's just committing suicide right and obviously he knows he's got,
a couple hundred people on the plane with him who he's going to kill, but you can
imagine that there's some states
the human mind where all of those days
Are really an afterthought and there's no
What kind of a murderous rage needed.
Who motivate D
instantaneous murder of hundreds of people we
as there would be, if you're going to start your killing people with with a club
out in the world
shooting them one by one and or at least
it does strike me as the method of crime,
he does select for a different population of people who would be capable of causing them
the other day, squeamishness that the pilot wouldn't have to overcome here. That
You know nobody is accurately the getting into the gritty business are killing. People would have to
for come here. There's no at the moment you ve, bought into out. You know you what you want to commit suicide anyway, right and.
For whatever reason, you're happy to kill a lot of people in the process, but after that
there's no, it's all hypothetical, there's, no up close and personal encounters. This conflict is just a plunge.
Out of the sky with you
and this is analogous to different act.
In times of war right issues. It takes a different kind of person to just drop a bomb from thirty thousand feet, knowing all the while that, beneath that bomb, there were hundreds or even thousands, of people who are dying, that's
different. Then you know tranche
any other sort of conflict that produces death
This is the example I give somewhere. I think it's in my first book the end
By that I mean when you find out that your grandfather flew by
missions over Dresden in World WAR too. That's why
If you hear that he killed a woman and her kids will shovel
it's another ring.
This rural reaction to that difference is an appraisal of just how different
person you would need to be to do those two things.
And yet we know he would have killed many more people flying bombing run over Dresden than he would would have killed with a shovel.
Different matter when
interact with technological
we are now
in a world where you could kilo
lot of people will
anything more than an idea made, it is a kind of
abstraction, even when you're going through the steps required
to weaponize a virus
because he and some level you're not sure, what's gonna happen, rageous sort. You just can release this thing
into the wild and, let's see what happens it's all
hypothetical until it isn't right and it's.
I don't know I just I can see this kind of
Mobility. Interacting with
mentally unwell. People of various sorts
where the bar to initiating
this kind of thing here
quiet lower, then,
acts of violence at her
would not nearly as harmful Yankees
oh so that process of engineering. This thing
and even unleashing it would involve gazing into complete
screen he hobbling with lab equipment in them the level the boy
are to being able to brutalized. Somebody with a shovel is: is one thing it's
lower, I'm sure when it comes to
killing somebody is a sniper in war from five hundred yards siesta,
they think dropping a bomb and,
in designing and releasing a pathogen might even be more abstracted than that. You can imagine. People
deciding to do things that pose,
incredible downside risks, but it's still you never quite sure right so
You could say why am I want em
I want to get a lot of people sick to make a point in other. Is this prospect that
This could get completely out of hand and
kill millions. But that's not my intent, but
What the hell right is like this, just it's the exponential part here that just makes this so scary because keep rolling dice of these sorts and again what we have with covert seems like
best case scenario yen. You could even get somebody. I just thought of her crimson, I hadn't thought of
or you can even get somebody with a messianic complex who decide.
Its ongoing to release a minor pathogen too
warn the world about the stuff. You know warning
not here, and that right out of control,
all kinds of motivations that people could have on this.
Whenever you have a destructive technology of this sort that can be unleashed by a single person,
That variable alone is enormous and adjust the fact that it takes perhaps a dozen fairly technical people to produce anything like a crude nuclear bomb,
right, a difficulty factor for one, even super competent person,
it's just too high managers too much engineering to do this, just too many parts to get together, you know
moving. The thing requires collaboration of issues. You need some people and
when you take that away,
you deliver into the hands of any single person, technology that
is potentially even more destructive. There seems like it does change the game significantly and groups get busted driven
it busted, because they have to communicate with each other. They get busted because somebody defects from them they get busted, because
have a lot of surface area with the rest of the world.
Somebody's gonna, try to impresses girlfriend by blabbing about something very low
the statistics- and I remember the exact numbers, but the number of terrorist plots that have Rina, reported leaving foiled since nine eleven and it's a pretty impressed
the number and a very small number of plots it actually went forward. But if you look at somebody
the biggest shooter Obama Teen, who shot up the night club in Orlando,
You know: there's no coordination, there's no signal leakage, all the actions that those people took, that the most mass shooters take in preparing for their crimes are perfectly
you know, and of its one person. It's just almost you know undetectable and
yeah. I guess you I'm in swinging around to being all the more concerned about love
wolves more than groups, as we talk about this, ok, well,
get back into it and listen to section three
while back, I said the way out of this is to build a global immune system to identify and destroy deadly new diseases and there's plenty of inspiration to take from our own bodies
Immune systems are simply amazing. They fight off countless attackers each year
without us. Even noticing, and countless attackers are bugs. The immune system has never encountered before, yet it fence off these completely unknown enemies, because its agile adaptive,
He layered. We need to build something like this for humanity as a whole to fight off new threats, whether it's an artist.
She'll disease or unnatural one on a worldwide basis. Early. The great news is: we can do this if, after putting covered behind us to whatever extent where able we maintain our focus on the threat of new diseases, much much much more intensely than we did after Sars, murders, zika etc, as will see doing, is properly, will take big investments,
which can be very tricky to fund. But let's compare that to the cost of doing nothing. The congressional budget Office estimates the covert, will cost the? U s alone. Seven point: nine trillion dollars in economic activity, while former Harvard President Laurent Summers pegs the domestic,
sixteen trillion dollars whichever,
estimate you use it maps out to tens of trillions of dollars worldwide from Covid, while an artificial bug could be vastly more deadly and destructive
Indeed, as I said earlier, I am confident that civilization could even survive. Something like a highly contagious version of eighty five and one flew
I mean, while can imagine everything I'm about to discuss combined
sing, even one to two percent of the bill. That covered alone is sticking us with an
These measures would come with a massive side benefit and that they defend us from natural disease
as well as artificial ones. That would include pre
easily unknown enemies like covered or die.
Full annual reruns, like the flu. Let's talk about the flu for a second
White House counsel of economic advisers estimates that it costs the: U S alone, three hundred and sixty
one billion dollars a year and medical spending and lost productivity. This maps to over.
A trillion dollars worldwide and it will do so
a bit we might
all but eradicate the flu. If we get just one thing off of my wish list, not definitely but we'd have a great shot at it for less than one percent of the flues annual cost modern life cycle.
Says absolutely, including some vile? Are magical arts and we can and should list them against ancient
along with emerging once now. As I said,
this immune system should be a global thing, but global initiatives can take years to generate so we can and should get started everywhere at national levels, although would be
asked. If we eventually do things collaboratively uncover the glove
I've divided the immune system into five components. The first is about making it much trickier, forbad actors to hijackers in bio infrastructure and use it to turn out awful things. The second component is outbreaks surveillance. The earliest days of
outbreak can make all the difference between derailing a disease and letting it go global.
So we should monitor the biosphere for new outbreaks as carefully as we watch the skies for enemy nukes
as will see some really interesting. Science could help a lot with this if it gets the right funding in privatisation. The third component is about hardening society against the sin, bio attack or inaction.
Pandemic in military terminology. A hard target has some protection and its tougher to destroy than a defenceless soft target, like you could say the? U S hardened its airports back in the seventies when it first to quit.
Then with metal detectors, then hardened them again after the nine eleven attacks by creating the tea I say component number four is about.
Hungering viruses- this is all
like getting ahead of the next viral outbreak with vaccines and medications that could just stop it in its tracks. There's a huge amount that could be done here, but again it's all of
getting the right funding from a society that tends to under invest badly. In these things, I call the last component battle infrastructure. What do we need in place to fight the next novel disease after it's broken out? Either? Stop it from becoming a pandemic, ordered damp and a pandemic that takes off despite all.
Our other measures at least one thing will discuss, may sound like science fiction being
system all described will be a dual purpose framework, while some parts of it are specifically targeted at artificial diseases. Some of it would also pay
huge dividends and are never ending battle against natural ones. So,
if no one ever attempts to create an artificial bob, which I find almost impossible to imagine, it would still pay for itself, probably hundreds of times over and saving lives, suffering and economic damage,
before we start, I should say this isn't meant to be the last word in anything. It's instead of framework for thinking about,
How to respond to an existential threat? Humanity faces one that the current crisis has brought it much sharper
focus in a year and a half? Since I gave my TED talk about these things, it's not meant to be comprehensive. It can't be for one thing: this podcast is meant to have a manageable duration.
Also so much is changing and send Bio and infectious disease research due to covet that one writer can hope to have it all on his radar. There might be dozens of measures and promised,
technologies worth sliding into each of my national components and if some form
This immune system does arise. I certainly
hope it'll be that deep and wretch. So my hope in this is to start a conversation not to complete one. A conversation that clearly
to a blueprint for an immune system, more agile, multi layered in adaptive than anyone can currently imagine so onto component, one
hardening the synbio infrastructure? A few minutes back, I mentioned the TSA. Most of us have a friend who likes.
Say that if they wanted to hijack a plane, it would be so easy because the tea essay socks next time that happen
ask your friend how many you ass hijackings there have been since the t s I got started and cockpit doors were hardened. The answer is zero, not because it's become impossible to hijack planes
but it's tricky enough that hardly anyone bothers so well
haven't made aviation in vulnerable, because that is impossible. We ve made it much much harder to disrupt the
is what we need to do with the active, creating deadly artificial bugs. We can't make that completely impossible, but we can push it passed. The reach of most people, including people acting on, urges that will events
pass. This matters a lot with someone bent on suicidal mass destruction because most
suicide attempts and many mass shootings are driven by transient
phases of extreme rage or despair and analysis.
Of over a hundred, and seventy five academic papers showed that less than four percent of those who tried and failed to kill themselves later success, we did so now. That's obviously four percent too many
but it shows that most suicidal phases are impermanent. Hijacking of all things is an interesting parallel, believe it or not. It was once passed
well to hijack a plain, almost on a passing whim between nineteen sixty eight nineteen, seventy two
where a hundred and thirty? U S, hijackings, almost all
by domestic perpetrators. Many of them were radicals who just kind of wanted to go to Kuba. It got so bad. She were created a special dormitory for wayward american height
occurs. Alarmed citizens, meanwhile swamp the FDA, with anti hijacking suggestions like building trap doors outside of cockpits event.
We metal, detectors and so forth drop. The ambient level of hijackings from above
forty eight year, almost zero. Now we clearly can't live with dozens of biological attacks per year, so we need to think carefully about hardening the products and services the create synthetic dna
Luckily, this process is already well under way back and twenty ten, the? U S: Department of Health and Human services issued guidance for security and bio cracked
says and by then the industry had already founded the international Jean Synthesis Consortium or idea Sea, which is all about biosecurity. Its member companies represent about eighty percent of the world's
and synthesis capacity, although nobody's quite sure how accurate that estimate is the government.
Guidance asked the industry to screen its customers for bad actors and to look out for orders of dangerous dna sequence,
So the idea ass, he created a regulated pathogen database. Its members now follows special review processes for potentially dangerous requests and contacts. The FBI when appropriate. They also followed government watch lists of terrorists, people subject to export controls and more. I discuss these
issues with science policy experts. Sarah Carter, she has estimated that idea see members spend an average of almost fifteen dollars for each synthetic dna order that they receive on biosecurity compliance, which is a very serious investment
so there's lots of great news here: the bad news,
is that the government hasn't once updated its guidance. That's a ten year old
apps and guiding one of the fastest moving industries in history, plus that ancient government guidance is just that guidance, in other words its voluntary and while its impressive that the idea
these members produce. Maybe eighty percent of the world's synthetic dna is that really enough
I'll use, an analogy that many current and former american high school students will identify with when I was growing up my five town area. A couple hundred thousand people total headings
actually, one leg, restore that reliably sold beer to teens every young beer enthusiast knew all about that store and for a while
may as well, have been no drinking age whatsoever. Now
there had to be ninety nine percent compliance with the liquor laws amongst
stores in our area, but that hardly mattered, so I'd say when the
of the world might literally hinge on controlling deadly DNA. Eighty percent self directed compliance to voluntary
Itunes is nowhere near enough that other twenty four
in the hands of companies that are doing own
One thing is just a gaping hole and even for its members, the eye
Yes, he is no real arbiter because it thoroughly lacks independence. Its chairman
for Nigeria Seem member called Thermo Fisher and the other folks they give it bits of their time
work for one member company or another
if you're wondering why the idea see website has no phone number it's because they have no phone.
Now. Luckily, I wouldn't call this a pure fox, watching the Hen House scenario, because in Bio executives have huge incentives prevents and bio attacks as humans. They suffer as much as the rest of us and even the botched attack that hurts no one could lead to calls to shut down their industry
that said, any companies prime directive is to make money in every idea.
Representative has a day job and a company that has to make quarterly goals. So it's not surprised
and that in a recent sin, bio industry survey. Sarah Carter wrote that the people she interviewed quote repeatedly emphasised that biosecurity considerations were not
a priority for the industry overall, with very little attention paid to the topic by investors and in industry venues. Now this isn't true everywhere. A thought leader in this field,
twist bioscience, a relatively large and publicly traded sin by a company
and an idea see member accompany Representative told me the twist treats the consortium standards as a baseline
starting point for their own biosecurity measures. They have a small full time staff of Phds.
The drill down on every dna order that could possibly be misused and the list of sequences that trigger reviews.
Is far beyond the idea sees regulated.
The djinn database that's
Not everyone has twists resources and the cost of synthetic dna is dropping, while the cost of screening is increasing, as databases of concerning sequences grow larger
more complete? This means screening is heating up a growing share of companies, margins, which increases the incentives to cut corners, and my contacted twist said that some companies,
In fact opting out of the idea. C4 profitability reasons
peculiarly internationally, this worrisome
and he's not alone the World Economic Forum and a nonprofit call? The nuclear threat initiative have teamed up to address it. They proposed a common screening platform, that's robot
last open source and given to all industry players for free or at a very low cost. In a twenty twenty white paper, they wrote quote development of a common mechanism for screening, pathogen and toxic dna would reduce the time and expertise required to adopt and implement Cynthia,
dna screening practices and thereby expand those practices to a wider range of dna providers. They hoped to have this available this year in their white paper, they called for governments to
wire dna screening practices through legislation
regulation, and, although
Generally, very free market oriented person- I fully agree governments worldwide should collaborate on tough regulations to forbid the distribution of
any synthetic dna to anonymous parties or known that actors. As for dangerous dna, it
as its uses in research and other settings, and there are greedy
of danger, which should be treated differently, but in general it should only be provided to highly trusted customers with excellent reasons for needing it.
And as for pandemic grade DNA, it should never be synthesized or distributed period,
glad that there's no reason to ever mutate living organisms in ways that could let them cause devastating pandemics. I'm looking
at you H, five n one flew and those who,
to find you in twenty eleven, not even if the head researcher has the most angelic history and mode.
Because no lab is a hundred percent secure, as we discussed, plus lab securities about preventing accidental leaks, not deliberate once, and it's always possible that some lab worker will pass through an incredibly dark here and decide to cause the world enormous harm
this is evident in the mass shootings that happen on a roughly daily basis in the U S alone, no social class or level of education. It makes people immune to this. The regulators should be as brilliant as the people in the industry they oversea and they should coordinate globally. Yes, the- U S, China, Russia and others. Just
agree on plenty, but they each have everything to lose from sin. Bio run amok. Finally,
regulators deed to move as fast as the industry, no more
Ten year lapses. For one example,
what happens when regulators fall asleep? That ancient? U s
government. Guidance didn't foresee the rise of benchtop dna printers, which could be the future of the industry,
he's generate dna in users labs, so they don't have to order it from companies like twist. This is significant because history is full of transitions from the centre to the
By this I mean capabilities. They used to be provided by specialists migrate into the
hands of users themselves, for example, getting photographed used to require a technician with pricey gear to send text messages. People used to go to telegraph offices, printing, anything on paper required professionals,
special equipment: all these things can be done by users themselves. Now the list is endless
the move from the standard. The edge is generally a wonderful and empowering trend, but there have been regulatory tragedies, for instance, the eggs
closure in child pornography has been partly attributed to the fact that pictures are no long
printed and photo lapse were developers could spot something evil. At some point bench top dna printers will be powerful enough to aid and abet an apocalypse.
Long before that they all need to report any dangerous sequences that their asked to create triggering level headed review processes,
Luckily, this is already happening. The most advanced product,
The market is called the Bio ex p and I spoke extensively with its creator. Dan Gibson, the way it currently ingests and processes. Raw materials requires close communication between its user and its manufacturer. A company called Codex DNA which
Stan CO founded Codex is an id SC member and it doesn't let it spread or synthesize Medina. Without a review overtime by wax peas will become more autonomous in terms of the raw materials they process, but Dan says they'll continue to work,
all print runs back to Codex, so they can be reviewed like any order to an idea, see member so far so good. But this won't be the status quo for long for one thing:
inversion of the bioethics. P is analogous to the apple to computer and nineteen. Seventy seven, which is to say that
pollution areas. It is its capability.
Are minuscule compared to what's coming and with the passage of time, the limitations of the bioethics p in its errors will melt away limitations like its current inability to crank out a virus length genome. Another factor is that some day they'll be cheap, knockoffs of the biographies, distant descendants and, though
capable of things, we can scarcely imagine because, remember alone, lab tat can now sequence a human genome in a few hours, something that recently took the entire field of biology.
Thirteen years. So we can count on the fact that some day undergrad will be doing things. The end
higher field of sin, Bio can't possibly accomplish right now and many of them could
using knock off dna printers made by a moral companies that cut corners and ignore safety measures unless they're sternly required to follow them by then hundreds of thousands of people could have access to gear that could cause a terrifying outbreak, and we cannot count on all of those people,
never having a catastrophically dark day. So there needs to be an iron set of rules and an iron culture about keeping dangerous DNA
out of the wrong hands and the most
deadly DNA out of all hands and the time to create these universal
is now not a few months before distributed printers attain apocalyptic powers. This may sound
like a terrifyingly tall order and I'm sure government sceptics are particularly aghast at the need for,
brilliant and fast moving regulators, but remember in less than a century we humans banished diseases that had played just for millennia, made two hundred tonnes. Chunks of metal fly
I and transition from slide rules to the internet, and I'm just talking about shaping an industry that still in its
can see and is leaning in the right direction. We can put a very,
serious, lead on this. Now that will make it completely impossible for some disturbed person or group to make a profoundly lethal path.
Again because, like eradicating all hijackings, that is impossible. Which is why,
Our immune system has for more components. So, let's talk about the second component. Early detection. Early detection is everything in it.
Dynamics, especially when a new disease is talking the earth like.
Bid or any artificial pathogen that could be unleashed in the future. That's because in the first days of an outbreak, cases tend to grow exponentially and we saw how profound exponential growth is. When we discussed send bio speed of improvement,
Covered illustrates the cost of ignoring a novel diseases outbreak. A study published in nature estimates that, if China and implemented lockdown and other measures three weeks sooner, the number of chinese covered cases could have been reduced by ninety
five percent had that happened, who knows if the disease would have reached the rest of the world and the tragic fact is China squandered
much more early lead time than that, according to an investigator
by the Wall Street Journal. The head of the country's own
centre for Disease Control and Prevention learned about the outbreak not from some advanced disease monitoring system, but from,
reading the news on line and by then there were dozens of suspected cases. Why-
among other things, the journal reports that local hospitals didn't law cases in the China Seedy sees real time tracking system plus local authorities,
the high bad news from Beijing national leaders.
Later followed suit by hiding it for me
from the rest of the world. This is
man is national finger, pointing because my own country's CDC,
has a dismal covert history. I instead want to share,
how vital early detection will be if a deadly artificial pathogen is ever unleashed. So how do you find the first signs of pandemic solid? You can just google it or can
you one of the most fascinating covered, related articles. I've read was written by a data scientists, names Seth Stevens to video sites for the New York Times in April of twenty twenty. In it he showed the Google searches for the phrase. I can't smell almost perfectly tracked the prevalence of carbon
crossed the fifty states losses smell had only just been recognised as a covert symptom. At that point, so the articles chart seemed almost magical to me in a conversation
tat told me, the Google is remarkably generous with their search data and he didn't need any special access to write his peace in it. He boldly predicted that I paint would emerge as a covert symptom. This was not recognised as a symptom at the time, but he'd seen searches for spike by as much as five
hundred percent in countries like ITALY, Spain and IRAN, when they were in the throes of their covert outbreaks. Sure enough within a few
That's news articles right edifying. I pain as a covert symptom. If you like to hear a lot
more about this than I can squeeze in here and many other topic south as explore. These engage a science
I interviewed him for my own part cast, which is called the after on podcast composting.
In our view simultaneously with SAM's posting of this episode, meaning that it should be,
available now so could searches be used to predict outbreaks work by bill lamps of the computer Science Department at University College. London says: yes, he and a team of researchers dug deep into search traffic across several countries and compared it to reported covid cases and deaths. They found that search traffic pointed to national outbreaks, and
bridge of sixteen days before case counts started despite this could be an amazing tool for countries trying to get really warnings of outbreaks before local doctors
even seen many patients and, in fact bill, told me that public Health England is,
using is covered models as well as a search powered, flew detector that his team is built. I'd like to see this kind of work grow exponentially for a global imbalances.
Since we don't know what symptoms and artificial pathogen or any new disease would trigger. We should continuously scanned the search sphere
for every known symptom of every known disease. And yes, I know that sounds like an answer
mainly tall order, but big data is called big
for a reason: any symptoms, spike
side of a seasonal norm, like the huge spike sat, saw in losses.
Smell searches in ITALY could be a signal, and if it's a cluster of symptoms, it could be a strong signal, especially fact. Clusters shows up in more than one place at once now. Building this would present all kinds of interest
data science challenges as Seth, and I discuss in our interview. The biggest one would probably be dealing with false positives, but bill lamps believes that such a system is buildable,
He wrote to me quote: a moderate scientific research budget can support the development of a system like that. This translates to
very low millions of dollars to potentially get way ahead of something that could cost us trillions or even cost us everything. Of course, there are many offline places to search firmer,
in pandemics. One of the best, and certainly most obvious, is in the bodies of sick people who turn up at doctors offices. One day, artificial pathogens could strike
But meanwhile, we can greatly expand our virus hunting expertise by relentlessly identifying and neutralizing new natural diseases and hot spots where viruses commonly
jump from animal hosts to humans. Southern China is one such place and parts of Africa or others.
Sars Mirza Bola and perhaps covered all jumped from animals and are known
Zoonotic viruses, soon
x or especially dangerous, because until the moment they jump no
human body- has any immunity or experience in fighting them an amazing programme
that's just rolling out in West Africa, called Sentinel
could be a role model for the developed world as well as we give up for a time, and
New diseases could strike anywhere. One of its co leaders is Pardie Sabeti, who, who has appointments at both Harvard and the Broad institute road is,
basically, a joint venture between Harvard and MIT, and it's worth knowing about, because a huge proportion of the world's best
Attic science is coming out of their sentinels called, put a pandemic preemption system for the real time detection of viral threats and its wanting first in Nigeria, it will be a multi, tiered system. Its creators believed that we are quote on the cusp of a new era: alter sensitive genomics technologies. Have the unpressed
and an ability to detect virtually any pathogen, including those circulating. Under the radar
and can be leverage to create simple point of care diagnostics to be deployed anywhere in parallel, powerful new information systems allow us to continuously collect, integrate and sheriff
I will surveillance data by unifying these tools into a coherent system. For the first time ever we can detect and prevent pandemics on the ground before they start end quote so. Basically, it's safe high grade genomics meets cloud computing.
That sounds pretty good. Huh centre will be built around three tier system, with simpler tools out in the field and more powerful ones in regional and national centres and data about every single infection flowing back to a central system for tracking and analysis.
If a patient has one of the areas top priority
diseases. Parties expects that they'll be able to. I d
fight within an hour, and do I didn't
by any other known human virus. Within a day when I asked
how long it would take to create a test for previously unknown disease that they discover out in the field. She said a day to build it and a week to know that it works
parties absolutely believes. We need something like sent. No in the, U S and throughout the rest of the
world, although our own focus, is currently in West and Central Africa, and she shares
concerns about biosecurity. So could we afford
worldwide, sentinel system, I've seen the programmes budget, and, while it's confidential, I can say it's absolutely in the reach of any developed country and any less developed country with just a little bit about
I'd financial help in the U S, adjusting for cost of living factors and population size. I estimate it would cost
low billions per year. This is a trifling some. Just
compared to what we lose to the flu every year, let alone a pandemic like cove in and it's negligible, compared to what a truly nasty artificial pathogen could cost us if it goes undetected for a few critical weeks. How else might we detect a new pathogen? Well, how about plucking
right out of the air. A handful of researchers are now pioneering bio, aerosol science, including MAR Renandes at the universe,
So the Colorado one technology he's excited about is called condensation, particle capture or see pc,
this uses humidity to condense, incredibly, tiny
particles out of the air. It then concentrates them.
A little vile from
DNA and RNA can be sequenced next generation Cpc systems are small, roughly shoebox sized they're, also networkable, and
sheep about a thousand dollars. Each someone needs to collect those little vials. Sissy pc doesn't provide instant result.
But if the samples arrive at a robust enough lab, there's no
the number of pathogens you could test for market. I talked about a plausible future. Cp ceases
which could do analysis right inside the box with a miniature robotic lab. He believes it through
and resources are applied. This could be achieved in about five years, and the system might be about the size of a ticket kiosk. These could be deployed
the transit hubs and other places you'd want to monitor particularly closely there
actually in early. U S, government effort to do something like this called Bio watch.
It arose in the wake of the anthrax attacks of two thousand and one and was deployed in dozens of cities targeting six pathogens, although it got some terrible press marks has by a watch, wasn't bad for its day,
that it did pull genetic information out of the air and achieved its goals,
I'm degree another technology mark has excited about, has
Fabulous name of spectrum photo metric com. This is more physics than biology,
and uses lasers to characterize gases and the particles in them they propose
of gases. We exhale change when we get sick and tracking changes could be a fantastic early warning tool. A group mark works with his proposed, an experiment looking at the breath of mice infected with Cova, to see how their exhalations change as they get ill. Unlike Cpc market see this see this technology one day
going into a phone breathed into a daily, and it will get a baseline understanding of what you exhale when you're healthy diverge from the norm, and it could mean something's wrong as a science get smarter about what
prince shifts mean better early warnings could be delivered and if millions or billions of people start to do
this regular way to monitor their personal health. The aggregate,
It could amount to an amazing early warning system. Mark is one of over a hundred country,
bidders to a global micro organisms survey called up.
Run by geneticists Chris Mason, a professor at Weill Cornell Medicine, each year, researchers and one hundred and fourteen global cities plus an outpost in our
gotta, spend a day sampling an average of fifty local sites. Some
Will the year like Mark Hernandez, others sample wastewater, but most of them swab surfaces in places, including public transit systems, shopping malls, hospitals and home
You could think of this as a micro organisms senses, but it could be converted into a massive disease surveillance network
by doing swapping an analysis on a daily rather than you,
We basis Chris Mason Ballpark that a budget of
Three billion dollars would enable this with extremely deep genetic sequencing, which would uncovered,
and highly rear bugs in each environment. Like everything discussed in the series, that's nothing compared to the annual cost of the flu, let alone a devastating pandemic
about half of that cost is for reading genes costs which are continuing to dropped dramatically over time. This good, let hundreds of,
national cities joined the survey for the same budget or the budget could be increased to expand coverage because, after all, it is peanuts compared to the stakes.
Overtime, investments and are indeed could result in robotic systems to do
swabbing automatically, and do the
attic analysis right on the machine potentially enabling far
more sampling or allowing more to be accomplished on the same budget
the bottom line. Is disease surveillance is an incredibly promising frontier for improvement. If we prioritized the right investments today,.
Ok, well, Lamb robber in thinking about how to stop
this problem. We have to think about how to pay for the solution.
What is the role of money in this equation? Well, I think there's two things to think about: how much is it going to take, and is society actually going to be willing to make those investments, given that we know society basically hit the snooze bar after stars,
after Zika. After a bunch of other things, this time around there is definitely promising signs. I do think that covets wake up call is uniquely
easy and not bite administration has, of course, drawn up a mega billion dollar pandemic budget, but with almost all the conversation, understandably enough focused on the immediate project of fighting covert. It's it's a little hard to tease out what permanent changes will be made to our pandemic readiness. But there are some really good ideas starting to circulate, and also the real test will be, what we're doing against pandemics and twenty twenty two. But what we're doing in twenty thirty two, if we ve been lucky enough to have a quiet decade, I knew we lose focus and let our capabilities atrophy after covets a distant memory,
for this reason the right way to look at this, and I think the only way to look at this is through a national security lands in that we spend massive amounts on defence every year, even though the huge majority of our military capacity isn't being used at any given moment, because we want to be prepared for an extreme military emergency that that's never happened before and since pandemics are huge national security risks, that's definitely how we need a budget for them and an viewing through. This lends I'd say, for example, the odds of another pandemic happening vast
outweigh those of an all out nuclear war happening right and the US currently spends about thirty five billion dollars a year. According to at least one report that I saw maintaining its nuclear arsenal,
while the world as a whole spends about seventy billion dollars a year, not that kind of annual budget would find every pandemic preparedness measure. I'm gonna mention in the series many times over. So that's a highly precedent and level of investment to make against the major national security risk in an investment that I think we do the track of defending against future pandemics if it spent wise
which, of course, governments don't always do that they, Canada pension. This is a pinch, but it needs to be a relentless investment year in year out across even pandemic free decades.
So again, the analogy has to be defence spending which, like an even bigger examples, counterterrorism, which you spent trillions on since nine eleven, including two world wars, and all that shows we
salute we- have the resources to fund
was any imaginable pandemic immune system on a national or global level. Just a matter of political will.
He and the point I would make here which will be made
couple times already. Is it everything were saying about
and in again,
as a sin. Bio attack applies
to natural pandemics remain absolutely even if we manage to completely solve the problem
mostly focused on here here, we managed to keep the two
rules of sin vile out of the hands of all the bad or crazy people could ever want to wield them. We still
This massive risk
which we know is,
never going away that nature will produce the next pandemic that term, if it doesn't wipe us out it, it still can be
much worse than covered, you know unimaginably worse than covered in its effects on civilization. If we can't
immediately deal with it, so everyone
We would take care to prevent bioterrorism
should be taking any way to prevent the by
terrorism of mother Nature, yeah, that's absolutely the right ones to look at it through and in every countermeasure. We're gonna talk about a pretty much. Everyone is equally applicable to natural pandemics
Then, on top of that, you look at this flu, even if we never face another pandemic again, which, as you know, awfully unlikely, the White House come
on economic advisers, put the annual cost of the flu in the. U s alone, at three hundred six
one billion dollars a year. That's lost productivity as well as medical spending that maps that maps out to a trillion dollars a year and hundreds of thousands of lives worldwide. There's plenty.
Ways to recoup any investment that we make a bet against these things here. So
So how to members of the idea see screen for
dangerous dna house, any of this being monitored, while the Good NEWS
is it's actually a really interesting and
ambitious precedent and it's a great place to start. We start thinking about hardening
sin bio infrastructure against being hijacked, so a start with a quick overview of the market for Long ere corrected strands of deal.
In our name. Those strands are mostly assembled by specialised companies for customers. You dont want to create their own advance dna synthesis capability, which has almost everybody because that's very expensive to build, so it's kind of like how people used to get their photos developed drugstores rather than building home.
Our group's right now decentralized dna creators are,
shockingly unregulated there's just this voluntary guidance which the government issued over ten years ago to keep dangerous dna away from bad guys. Guidance switch has never been updated, but luckily the industry itself doesn't want a hindenburg moment. You know like a cat
I biosecurity lapse because that could lead to massive regulation or even the industry, getting shut down
which is why we have this self regulating body called the idea, see what
doesn't really have its own staff resources, but its members jointly maintain a comprehensive database of pathogen genomes. That's the main function of the idea
see as far as I can tell, and the members screen all of their orders against that lists. Pretty impressive and every orders tat
the regular agree, so
there's. No meaning will meaningful overlap between the order, and the judge
the code of any known pathogen the order
mark green, and it sells right through that's about ninety five percent of orders, but about five percent,
Borders are yellow, and that means there is significant overlap with some stretch of dna and a pathogen those
these are very carefully reviewed for maybe an hour or two, and it usually turns out that the overlap is with a benign stretch of dna. Like maybe saw a housekeeping gene or something like that, but every so often a yellow order becomes our red order, because the genetic code that someone is requesting is directly connected to some kind of day.
This machinery, in a pathogen and those orders, take several hours to review and sometimes are ultimately prove sometimes or amended,
and in some cases I understand there actually reported the FBI now. The thing that's interesting as this review work is done by violent from attentions and very often phd suits.
A very thorough apparatus in its it's also very expensive, and the
History is doing this on its own. Already, it's a hell of a certain, but it
expenses why some companies are just opting out of the whole thing.
Don't during the idea, see at all, because none of this is required by law and the ideas he has. This statistic that it represents eighty percent of total industry capacity, but that was
really just an educated guess that someone- and nobody can seem to remember who made many years ago and totally com
but an in saying that its very outdated, because-
Yes, he has exactly one chinese member.
China's in Bio capacities growing like man, it's a huge government priority. So what should change well the guidance and by us
safety first to stop being voluntary. It has to stop,
in ten years out of date, it definitely has to apply to one hundred percent of the industry.
And it's got to be internationalized through careful cooperation with China and everyone else, and that's a very
tall order. But the great news is that the starting point that the IGS is coordinated can absolutely form the core.
The first layer of our global immune system of hardening up arson via our architecture, because, if its universal Lized, it would without question just hugely reduce the number of people who could do something awful with synthetic dna because working around universal restrictions we just require so much.
Planning so much more self and skill than simply ordering something from a rogue supplier that doesn't implement any protections. So we have a great start
but it does need to be universal and again, it has to be up to date- tenure lags dump.
But what is the mechanism? There were enforce compliance internationally,
Here, maybe has certainly we're talking about a rogue state will soon,
nature of being a rogue state that it is not complying with international demands again. North Korea is a perfect example, but even
level misbehavior aside,
even within in allow
or or individuals with in other countries
Do we or any collective. We have to make sure that this committee,
science is truly international yeah I mean there's two dimensions that one: how do you get idea? Sea, like regulations in force by all countries that have sinned bio privates in Bio industries, and yet that is challenged number one
an ample challenge, but there are you know, I'm sure there are many industries that have relatively universalized regulations throughout the world and part because that's in the interest of industry to not have to comply with rules and countless jurisdictions that might be different and so forth.
But that's hard enough- and I don't want to minimize that, but you don't say that
our whole mother, wrinkle unique as we look to the Montreal Protocol for reassurance
the whole in that analogy, is that state actors themselves didn't have big chlorofluorocarbon projects of their own
and those were industrial ingredients they for air conditioners. They were making foam packaging for Mcdonald's. That sort of thing, so in that case that for regulating society, which society perfectly happy to do, but sovereign governments get to get really grumpy about restrictions on their own action.
And so it's not hard to imagine the chinese state or the? U S for that matter, secretly, developing governments and bio capabilities to stay ahead of the rest of the world. So you know, in addition to an end
Ashley, coordinate idea sea like system for keeping private industry safe. We definitely need something like the nuclear non proliferation.
Treaty for sin, bio amongst nations, which is a really tall order and
It's not something
if I have a ready made playbook for
but I will say that, as we scale up all of our national protective layers, its shock is really important not to neglect the international side of things, and this has to be a feat of very significant and determined international diplomacy. Without any question
So are there any lessons to draw from you on this point of collapse?
nation and its enforcement. I entered
nationally from our experience with China and covered,
there's so many ways in which cooperation.
Almost happened and then failed, and then we're we're still trying to figure out to what degree rank deception is the story of what China has done here
What lessons do we draw from covid? Well, it's! Obviously
not an encouraging example on so many levels swimming the denial ism. The suppression of people spreading,
The word about the outbreak, the fact that people in
Regions like we're on, are often afraid report Balinese up to Beijing setting
stonewalling internally. According do that very extensive research that I that I cited in the report in which
by the Wall Street Journal, there was obviously see stonewalling on an international level, but what we we can help
four- and I don't think this is a naive hope
is that a lot of people in a lot of countries are looking at all the botched responses have covered and say
never again and they're, saying it with
kind of determination that carries over across years and across decades- and you know the kind of encouraging thing in a weird way is that I think China's disease detection system might have actually been up to the challenge of containing covered, but for some tragically delayed responses which
Beijing will presumably do everything possible to avoid in the future, and from that my optimistic side says the world may be closer than we think already. Two adequate warning, a detection systems and where I get this from, is a fascinating paper in the Journal NEWS.
I'm whose lead author is lie: L a Lai at the University of Southampton
an idiot analyzes China, China's so called non pharmaceutical interventions against code
which is a fancy term for the Florentines locked as a fancy temper welding people into their apartments Sakhalin and asking in that kind of thing. The non pharmaceutical interventions MP eyes and the paper,
this analysis goes into of
and says that these interventions had been implemented a week earlier. China's cover cases could have been cut by about two thirds or cut by something
eighty five percent- if they were implemented two weeks earlier, ninety five percent- if the lockdown and so forth- happened three weeks earlier so you know: did China have three weeks?
and the answers these interventions started. I think, was on the twenty third of January and
as early as late December, this fairly heroic doctor that some people have probably heard of named Lee when Leang first sent a message to some fellow doctors warning of stars like outbreak in Wuhan, so yeah, that's over
three weeks of lead time an since this was alone doctor, you know basically successfully tuning into the pit,
damn it just from his narrow personal experience. I think we can
safely assume the local health authorities, who would have had much broader access to data, had to be aware of something. Now. This is just terrible to even think about, because a drop in China's cases may well have prevented the global outbreak. But it's also, it feels just really, unlike
that a delay like that will happen again in a post covered world issues can be so much more urgency about any warning signs
there's. Meanwhile, a ton of things we can do to dial up the sensitive.
Buddy of early warning systems throughout the world which will talk about and all that together, give me
real optimism about our ability to detect, and hopefully also snuff out, potential pandemics, whether the rats, natural or
official, if there is any more that you want
covered on the monitoring frontage, how we can pay attention to what is happening in the world because it again this is
this is. The kind of thing that, by its very nature, will emerge buy stuff.
May I guess some maniac could decide to take the of the boy,
on villain approach to this issue
saying near that if my demands are not met I'll, be releasing the doomsday virus on New year's eve, but, generally speaking,
and we're just going to hear about people getting sick somewhere and
we're not going to know what's going on or for help.
What has been going on unless we build some system by which we
protect these things earlier and earlier yeah
I would definitely like to draw attention back to them.
Nigerian system called Sentinel or words being rolled out Nigeria
a sentinel that I talked about in the recording which just quickly review is, I think they did. They call it a pandemic prevention system using real time, detection of viral threats or something
that the expectation with Sentinel is that they'll be able to to empower community health workers to diagnose
any of regions, most most common viral infections or highest priority viral. So probably,
the common ones, along with rare scary,
like a ball or whatever
within an hour and to basically diagnose any
known human virus within a day by pushing things up the chain to a central organization and
You know my back the envelope math on that. As I mentioned the recordings, it would cost in the low billions to trot out something like that, for instance, in the U s- and you know you ve gotta, ask yourself on a certain level: wine, the hell
haven't we done that and part of the answers that some sentinels technologies very new and
also the amount of genetic sequencing that involves would have been impossibly unfordable just six or seven years ago. But the bigger reason is the american health CARE,
systems justice baffling thicket of overlapping jurisdiction, something some things are managed by fifty different states. Other things are managed,
three thousand different counties, and, at least
Now a nationally coordinated system like Sentinel seems to be completely beyond us mean just one example from yesterday's New York Times an editorial. Yesterday's time said the twenty million covert vaccine,
have essentially gone missing in the US, which is
a huge number, when forty million vaccines have actually been injected so far? I think the intent of the editor
Was it gone missing from the standpoint of the federal government, which basically means
the federal government is pumping out the nations scarcity and most precious resource into three thousand counties, and
these states and losing all track of it, we obviously need to do better than that and when it comes
Disease surveillance. We need to do what sentinel is bringing to Nigeria, this real time radar, a viral infections and obviously counties can't bill. That needs to be national system, and I think it would have to hinge on radical
expanding testing and diagnosis of all respiratory infections. I mean flu rhinovirus
This is a minor brushes with a common cold, the whole the whole ship bag, which we don't current
Even attempt I mean, have you ever in your life, had a flu diagnostic,
doctor ever said: you don't have the flu have a ran a virus or you have influence.
The aid, not influenza, be having basically
when has ever experienced that, because people using recover from these things and collecting data didn't seem important
but this has got to change. The way we were gonna know if something new and dangerous is emerging is if we tracked the fur
all national inventory of viral infections. As close as we can, which
basically means, in my mind, a project warp speed for diagnostics, for testing, not just testing, obviously testing. Obviously, but every respiratory know we know of
Understand the bad administration plans to invest a lot and tests,
and I know how much of that is for the current crisis and how much of that is ongoing, but we basically need a whole new category of diagnostics, ones that can test for multiple diseases and which are reliable, which are cheap as hell and above all, can be taken at home, because we want to track these things much more closely, but we don't want to trigger an avalanche of new doktor visits. We just another capacity for that, and most people
wouldn't bother with a doctor visit for mild infection anyway. So these tests should be in every home, they should be free.
And somehow the results should be automatically logged with the national cloud. Like me
You need to scan some kind of coded display on the test, with your phone to get the results,
and all of this disease information needs to go into a real time. Integrated system, that's an lots of other data.
It is well. I mean something: Colonel
Nor add the super high tech.
Literary command that stands the skies for
nukes anatomy planes like a disease tracking centre that staff twice
for seven by data scientists looking at data from all kinds of sources, like all those diagnostic tests. Also,
online data search engine queries and so forth, like we talked about it and hopefully
we're smart enough to invest in a bio, aerosol grid and the technologies I talked about for pulling virus
versus out of the air in public spaces. That data should also feed in continuously, and hopefully we're also smart enough to build a hugely
spanned inversion of Nedda sobbed that academic project, which tests the inner surfaces and wastewater and
our samples for viruses in over a hundred cities that data would feed into and it should also be dialed into obviously the local public health.
Some. So so there's an alarm signal somewhere. You can get boots on the ground, see what's happening now, that's quite a wish list, but we
could build something like that and you'd be an amazing layer to for a global immune system.
He was with two parts to this that are distinct, thirsty
actual diagnostic and
where you have to swap thee
door handle on a bank or
the keypad on an atm or somebody's nose,
get us alive a sample, and then you need to take on
The friction out of the system that allows those samples to be processed and analyzed, but then there's just this massive,
information integration problem, an approach?
active in and retrospective search of the data
and that I gotta think on that second peace. Once again, the twenty four
and time companies like Google and Poland to your in these other in a major task,
operations that have so much engineering talent back at profitably be spent
there and am it's gotta, be sure
older as a responsibility,
Every smart person who has something to contribute here
my fear, is that we will
axioms will ultimately get distributed.
And they will work. You know, if not in the first reading
Molly. Maybe the second right- and we still have these variants now that
be outrun in some of the vaccines, but.
You can imagine us putting this behind us fairly
conclusively and then that ushering in a kind of roaring twenties like spirit of ok,
with reset everything you know how Louisa and that we could lose the less
in that we really must draw from this witches. We can't let this
Then, again again, this is a dress rehearsal, that we have managed
lastly, botched in all
most every way. Apart from that, the speed with which we produced vaccines and
yeah. I do. I do worry that once we get out from under this, we will lose the sense of
urgency and just assume, look at us. This sort of thing only happens once a century anyway, so we can go back to sleep here,
I mean that's, why I'll come back to the idea that this absolutely needs to be viewed through a national security lens, and maybe just
because it is so damn good at
lobbying for hundreds of billions of dollars. Every year we
hold our nose and put it under the Department of Defense, because you know they should know how to lobby for dollars, and it's gotta be something that is done relentlessly year in and year out, like we do with funding military capacities that
almost any given moment
our ninety nine percent on utilised in. We ve become ok without a society, because we know that we sometimes
my Sunday might need drawn emergency capacity. But the other thing is: you know that the the t work mean I'm just sort of
glibly describing something like nor out. I assume nor works really. Well, I don't know I've never been there, but what we do know is that the eighteen contracting that the government has done for all kinds of things has at times been completely catastrophically an app dinner and in just look at the debate
call of the vaccine roll out the New York Times at a trail that I just mentioned about the twenty million vaccines that have gone missing, also mentions that the federal government gave Delot.
Forty, four million dollar no bid contract to develop software for states and others to use during
their vaccine roll out and the product is simply catastrophic most and a lot of help. Him departments have completely ceased to use it, and we can't have that level.
Of incompetence. In that lack of seriousness,
aid or infest. Something like this. If we really going to build a you know, a radar screen for emerging pandemic
we can actually do it, but I'm take much more heart from the kinds of things that companies like Poland, tier can allegedly do than from the kinds of projects the federal government has overseen. I mean it's hard to a man
A more urgent task, then getting vaccines distributed, but even that it project was colossal botched.
They're just needs to be a completely different level of governance, much much higher standards and again just a radically higher level of seriousness. As we tackle this thing and again, maybe this gets back to that twenty percent time notion, not that you would want this natural detection grid to be staffed by part,
timers, but maybe people who are intent on careers and send bio you things from you: no kind of a linear,
and pointed say, maybe I'll give. You know, twenty percent of my career doing work in the public interest, and so maybe we could have some really really top flight people.
From academia and private industry see to it that these systems are outstanding and work incredibly well.
Yeah yeah, I'm sure there's a role for.
Philanthropic organizations here to point ray
sources in the right direction, and just
lobby for this being a priority. Some of the most important work
that can be done here. I think, has just to make the case that
We need to allocate the resources at the government level
That is the problem we run into,
these long years with climate change, energy, which was still barely it.
Starting line because the
War of words has been so difficult to win men and that we really need to
figure this one out. I s somehow. I think this is a less abstract to most people than the risk of climate changes, but
You know what we're also living in a country where it sits
aims at the time of this recording something
like half the country is
fairly care free
that the prospects of catching covered.
And quite worried about getting vaccinated, for it throws the absolute inverse of what you would think would be psychologically possible
so we obviously do have a major.
Messaging problem here, which also requires a commitment of resources
and that is in large part. The purpose of this podcast so Rob lets us, listen to the fourth
final section of your by turns fascinating and harrowing meditation on the future of synbio and global pandemic. This brings us to the third component of our immune system, which is hardening society against future pandemics. So what can we do to toughen things up
Well probably dozens of things and, as I said earlier, this podcast can't be a comprehensive list of everything we could do, but I'd like to lay out a couple of intriguing possibilities that might just be game changing for another, both unproven but their examples of the types of investments we should be making, in some cases, tiny ones to bulk up our arsenals. The first
It is a very particular ray of light of ultraviolet or uv light
as you may know, uv is invisible to humanize its carved up into various bands and sub bans. Just like you.
YO. You VIII A and VIII B light from the sun shines through our atmospheres and cause sunburns and skin cancer, a higher for
whence he man called you. Vc light doesn't get through, but we can make it out.
Elves down here with lamps. You BC has lots of energy so much that it kills. Micro organist
by frying their dna. You may have seen
sterilizing things and hair salons. It's also used to steer
is operating rooms and hospitals and buses in some countries, but only when these places are empty because, again, you ve light is bad for us, or at least most of it is
Bbc spectrum has its own little neighborhoods. One of them is called far you d C and
fascinating research shows that it may not damage human tissue at all David Brenner,
radiation physicist Colombia has in most of the ground
making work here in July
many twenty interview with TED's David Bello- he explain
that light around the two hundred and twenty two nanometer wavelength, just can't penetrate the dead cells that form the surface of our skin and our eyes here.
Exposed the skin and eyes of mice, as well as humans
into it, and there's no,
sign that it gets through that powder layer to do any damage
but viruses and other bugs or much tinier than
cells in this light saps them, David burners experiments, have shown
that it kills off airborne of like influenza and corona viruses he'd like for far you vc like
to be an indoor spaces everywhere and to be switched on safely in the presence of humans whenever outbreaks occur. He's calculate
that ninety nine point. Ninety nine percent of the pathogens and
closed room could be knocked out by these lights and just a few minutes now. This wouldn't sterilised diseases out of existence. After all, it takes.
Secondly, not minutes for sick person to sneeze on you in the subway, but it could bring the ambient level of pathogens way down and completely sterilize surfaces
in other words, while it wouldn't make the built environment virus proof. It could hardly get quite a bet, but there's a puzzle here
dangerous uv wavelengths on all that much longer than far Uvc. It's all measured,
nanometers. So why can the bad you ve penetrate our skin when far you vc, can't? I talked to a scottish physicists based in Australia named Charlie Ironside, who explain this different materials, absorbing
like different frequencies of light and the proteins and ourselves happened to be highly absorbed.
Right around that magic. Two hundred and two
me too nanometer wavelength and when
is absorbed it decays away exponentially as it enters the material
so boom outer layers of dead cells or bulletproof, or at least very opaque at to twenty two to make far Eve, you see the day you need clunky tubes, which are big
thirdly, inefficient and generate way too much heat. Charlie spent DEC
working with leds and has issued a call to arms to the industry to make
are you, you see, lady products. If things work out, he thinks they could
can be integrated into smartphones. Letting them act is Germany,
title wands, no more
need for hand sanitize her, but lots of research and development would need to be done and is
six world recently pointed out nothing's going to happen until safety is
and beyond a doubt, David Burners, intriguing experiments notwithstanding. This has yet to be done. If you're like me here
during why in the world, not safety studies? Would
passed in the millions in a world that losing trillions to a pandemic. A world which will without question face future pandemics, and this could be a game. Changer
or it could be done, but will only find out if we put it to the test
global immune system has to fund research that could strengthen our pandemic readiness, especially when,
steps costs so little. An excellent research shows that the results could be transformative. This brings us to the besieged vaccine. Beseeching prevents early childhood tuberculosis.
That has been given over four billion time since eighteen, twenty is more than any other vaccine, it so safe its given
over a hundred and twenty million infants each year,
I've been signs that it fights many diseases beyond tuberculosis for almost a century way. Back at nineteen twenty seven, a swedish study found that these e g vaccinated children turned out to be three times less likely to die.
From any cause. More recently, a twenty five year study of over a hundred and fifty thousand kids in thirty three countries showed the vat
being reduced, lower respiratory tract infections by forty percent? Then a very
Recent study in Greece showed an eighty percent drop in respiratory infections amongst older adults, who were given the vaccine as well as a fifty percent drop in all other forms of infection,
and Bcg superpowers go far beyond this. It's now a frontline treatment for bladder cancer and they're.
Promising signs, and it might even help to prevent cancer from arising in the first place and possibly even prevent Alzheimer's.
Beseeching seems to work it's magic by strengthening the innate immune system over the long term. Think of this is
in your bodies, first responders, it's the innate immune system that instantly kicks and when something punctures your skin or when you first get an infection, it's ready to fight anything unlike the adaptive immune system, which creates highly effective, specialised responses to specific enemies, but needs time to get started so could widespread, beseech you use help foil a pandemic. Well, as early as March people started noticing the countries with long running BC. G programs like Japan generally had much lower covert infection in death rates than countries with no beseeching programmes. Like the. U S, a rigorous study of this effect appeared in the July twenty eight, the addition of the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences to control for things like Socio economics, population structure and urbanization. The researchers looked at a set of what they called socially similar.
European countries, and they found that for every ten percent increase in a b c Gi Coverage index covert death rates dropped by ten point. Four percent and intriguingly stark example, was found in Germany back when the country was divided. East Germany pursued a policy which has yielded far more beseeching coverage in today's elderly adults, who are of course, the most vulnerable group to cope it and today the death rate from carbon is two hundred and ninety percent higher in western Germany. The opposite of what we expect to see, given that Western Germany is the far more prosperous region is all of this. Just a coincidence.
Of course it could be, which means the screens for multiple clinical trials. They should be run in places like the. U S were almost no one has ever had the vaccine research,
I would then give one group of people Dcg and another group of placebo and then compare covid infection rates between the groups over
although some Bcg covert trials are in fact under way, I'm still stunned by how hard it is to raise tiny research funds for such obviously important work. As I was researching this, I got to know two scientists were proposing some exceptionally well designed research into beseeching benefits for an extremely vulnerable population to covet
therefore, one of the world's top and best known universities, but instead of running their trial, they were
hunting for a few million dollars in funding during a pandemic, that's costing
us alone, seven trillion dollars at least again. This is insane even though Bcg like Far Uvc light could admittedly turn out to be a flop. We won't know until we find the inexpensive research that tells us. You have my question
why this research is still important with so many covered specific vaccines entering the market. The answer is that we have an entire planet to vaccinate almost eight billion people. Some of the new vaccines are expensive, with limited production capacity. Where is Bcg cost as little as zero dollars and seven cents a dose and is made by twenty two different manufacturers throughout the world and covetous I'd. This could be a
game changer for future pandemics, BC's greatest superpower seems to be fighting respiratory infections of all types and a huge percentage of pandemics as well.
Novel diseases with the potential to become pandemics are respiratory nature. Sars murders, Covin flew Tuberculosis itself
get the picture, and God forbid, we ever have an artificially modified each by then one outbreak. But if we do boy
Will that be a respiratory nightmare if a future pandemic could be greatly softened by a precautionary Bcg, vaccination program we'd be fools not to do the inexpensive research to either prove or debunk Bcg efficacy and again, if we do decide to vaccinate people
bull beseeching costs as little as seven cents, a dose so giving the largest totally unvaccinated country. The. U S full coverage would cost peanuts
If you like to learn a lot more about the besieged vaccine, tuberculosis and more, I interviewed a brilliant, Harvard epidemiologists aims
and Murray from my own podcast, which again is called the after on podcast. Her academic focus is tuberculosis, and she knows tonnes about Beseech tee in its
potential. Our interview runs for well over an hour and goes into much more depth than I can cover here,
that episode may or may not be posted by the time your hearing this, but if it hasn't been
posted it's the next one in the queue, so
you'll, be able to access it quite soon. The last method for hardening society that I'd like to highlight doesn't hinge on cutting edge science, but on plain old public policy, it is to greatly increase the social safety net that keeps people from sliding into states of extreme,
though it may be hard to feel empathy for suicidal mass murderers. We have to accept
but all of them arrive at profoundly dark places that few of us.
And even imagine these are not swift journeys.
All involved, some form of mental illness be extreme depression, uncontrolled rage path
logical narcissism, schizophrenia or something else. We need to study the case histories of everyone who steps in this way
and greatly increase our vigilance and generosity in detecting and treating the relevant conditions here in the. U S, a de facto policy of emptying asylums from the mentally ill back in the eighties has done us no favours more. Broadly speaking, every single one of us can be a white blood cell in this global immune system by each doing what we can to ensure that no one goes on. This brings us to the fourth component in our immune system, which is conquering viruses. But before we talk about viruses, let's briefly discuss bacteria, which can be extremely dangerous. They cause things like cholera, bubonic plague which still bubble up in places with overwhelmed healthcare systems, plus their so called super bugs which resist all antibiotics. These killed about seven hundred thousand people,
when he sixteen and could be over ten times as lethal by twenty fifty, which means they could significantly exceed the death toll of even cove. It covet we're desperately under investing in new antibiotics, and this urgently needs to change that said, almost every major epidemic since antibiotics were discovered has been viral influenza, polio, mumps, yellow fever, measles, dengue, aides, AIDS, Sars murders, cove it and as for true pandemics, only viruses cause them and the modern Europe. So why or viruses such tough customers
Ironically, it's because it's not much to them. They lack the basic machinery of life and dont have any cells, so the infiltrate ourselves that doesn't leave us many targets. We go after them
because we don't want to wipe ourselves out, along with a virus bacteria,
the other hand, ourselves ones which are very different from ours. That gives us loads of targets when we fight
and many of our antibiotics are broad spectrum, which means they can wipe out all kinds of bacteria. Sometimes too many,
This makes it almost certain that the first deadly artificial pathogens will be viruses, so does a second factor, which is that bacteria are radically more complex than viruses and are therefore much harder to engineer. Other deadly critters, like the parasites that cause malaria are more complicated
they'll complexity also makes it almost certain that early man made bugs will be modifications of existing viruses, not completely artificial ones, because its
currently beyond anyone's capacity to make complex functioning viruses from scratch. So how should we face the threat of artificially modified viruses? Terrors, like that contagious version of age, five than one flu, which has already been created well, I'd, say exactly how we should have been facing natural viruses for decades, steps that probably could have stopped coded in its tracks. There are two main sets of tools to consider. The first is vaccines to prevent viruses from infecting us in the first place. The second is therapeutics, a fancy
for medicines to help us fight viruses. If we do get infected, the trick is that so far, both sets of antiviral tools have been very narrowly targeted at very specific diseases rather than having the broad spectrum disease. Fighting
of many antibiotics. So, let's start by talking about therapeutics here, Johns Hopkins Center for Health,
security, senior scholar, a methodology, sums things up. Writing quote the existing armament harry him by the way. I love that word of antiviral drugs is rapidly expanding and now covers several viral families. However, very few existing any viral agents have spectrums of activity that even slightly measure up to the spectrum of penicillin or sulfa. The first antibacterial agents discovered end quote, but it's not hopeless. In conversation with me, a mesh pointed to several viral therapeutic
that hit multiple targets. One influenza treatment has proven effective against Ebola. Another medicine fights members of four virus families, Herpes Pox, no and pollyanna, and so
they called right Bavarian, which was named checked in the movie. Contagion can help treat
Hepatitis, any influenza
influenza viruses crimean
though hemorrhagic fever, maddening,
no virus, you
and old world hemorrhagic arena virus.
An Sars, although it unfortunate
Has won a mesh cause, serious toxicity issues? So what do we do with all this? A mesh told me he'd like to see a serious multi
program to test every antiviral Madison! That's ever been developed against every dangerous viral family, though reluctant to put a firm budget on this. He said it could cost several billion dollars and take several years chump change in light of what we're up against, and this would give us something crucial that we lack a complete understanding of what our existing weapons can already clobber for now
we make these haphazard, haphazardly or reactively like when the Ebola medication, REM Desert here prove to have some effectiveness against covered. There may be some
really broad spectrum wonders and are vital tool kit already that we just don't know about so. Let's figure this out a mesh also calls for us to pay
actively develop new antivirals to cover full viral families, like all corona viruses, pull that off and you've tackled Sars and Mers, as well as four causes of the common cold plus. Above all,
cold it just imagine where we be now we launched a successful campaign against the full corona virus family right after the Sars crisis. In two thousand and three with
powerful anti coronavirus treatment in our arsenal. Covet fatalities could have been a tiny fraction of today's death tolls.
And society in the economy could have been far less disrupted a mesh that he
usually takes about a billion dollars to get a drug to market big bucks, but small change compared to what's at stake. Even if you do this for every viral family that sickens humans, of which there's just a couple dozen, although there are a few viruses that don't currently infect us that we should probably
sharp and some weapons for remember those zoonotic viruses, something called the
viral project keeps a wary ion bugs that haven't yet jumped to humans, but may one day do so like so much of what we are discussing
all. These antiviral measures would bring massive benefits against natural pathogens, as well as artificial once and strictly in life,
The endless costs the natural diseases inflict on us we'd be crazy to skip here. Also, there are things that could helping the costs down like software based modelling and screening of drugs against specific diseases, a new field that showing lots of promise and appears to be very cost effective. Now, of course, the other side of the vile defence equation is vaccines, and here will start by talking about the flu again, because lots of smart people have been calling for universal flu vaccine for years. By this they mean a vaccine
works against all strains of the influenza virus. So few stamp out seasonal flu, you protected people from road versions of age. Five m one flew for free, along with countless other variations. A universal flu vaccine would also, hopefully be good for multiple years. Unlike the annual vaccines, we
get. There are lots of good reasons to get blanket protection from influenza as we've read
the with age, five n one flu. It can be hacked and terrifying ways. It also kills three to five hundred thousand people worldwide each year and costs
over a trillion dollars in global economic activity, plus it mutates constantly reinfecting people who recovered from earlier strains. Those mutations can also trigger deadly pandemics. Has happened in nineteen eighteen and three times since. Finally, the current vaccine is just
so inadequate, it's only to sixty percent on depending on the year and its manufacturing is largely based on technology. One of the top people who was long long called for universal flu vaccine, is Harvey Feinberg, a former dean of the Harvard School of Public Health and a former president of the National Academy,
Edison. He told me that he thinks it would cost just one to two hundred million dollars to fund a fully dedicated effort. They would have quote a very good chance and quote of developing a universal flu vaccine over about ten years. You heard that,
just ten to twenty million dollars a year. Many points off that, even if he's off by an order of magnitude
cost one to two billion dollars total. It's a staggeringly good deal now, you could say
This money only to find out that a universal flu vaccine is impossible with today's science. Harvey puts those odds that at least twenty five percent may be at a stretch is highest fifty. But if we take the worst possible numbers from all
His ranges and figure it's two billion dollars to get just a fifty fifty shot
saving the world, a trillion dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives each year. It still the deal of the century and, of course, there's no reason to stop with the flu.
Harvey think similar programmes against other viral families would cost similar amounts and face similar odds. If, given the budget, he'd start with universal influenza and corona virus vaccines, he thinks we learned enough from this.
Later efforts targeting other viral families faster and cheaper. So again, let's say we take the worst possible number from Harvey's ranges and launch universal vaccine programmes against all of the couple dozen virus families that second humans, this one time Moon shot programme would cost less than five percent of what the flu alone cost the world every year and less than one
of Covid bill, even if artificial bugs are forever pure science fiction. This is an investment. Humanity cannot afford not to make and no
you wouldn't have to get other shots, although you be wise to get
influence and corona once instead we'd stockpile these vaccines and have them ready in case something is bad or worse,
covert emerges from one of those, many viral families and, as with viral therapeutics. Just imagine if we had the foresight to launch a family, wide corona virus vaccine programme in response to the Sars
outbreak in two thousand, and three society literally could have been inoculated against covid before it even raised its head
our global immune systems, final component battle infrastructure, so, let's see the worst happens, and an evil, artificial bug or something nasty unnatural
is on the loose what'll. We need in our arsenal that will wish we had invested in today as a first step. Harvey fine Burg thinks we should adopt a national security mindset toward pandemics, and I fully
three, these can be threats on the scale of a world war after all, which calls for a unit
I'd command and hardly believes the head of. It should carry quote the full
power and authority of the american president to mobilize
we civilian an asset needed to win the war, that's the approximate opposite of how the? U S? At least met cove it
One small example of dozens, the federal government here too
a bidding war between the fifty states for critical equipment and supplies by refusing to coordinate, purchasing and distribution, this time
the states and their rivals rather than allies, will prompting hoarding and back stabbing,
in the words of the Wall Street Journal quote: some states turned against each other. One refused to give another contact information for lab supplies, fearful of being out bid. Governors kept shipment details secret, other governors, dispatched state police to airports, to guard their cargo and quote a bigger example. The federal government left it to each state to concoct its own defence and public health strategy against Cove it, of course, by definition, states don't have national institutes of Health or national centres for Disease control.
Thus badly. Underpowered states made their best gases as to what might work resulting in a stew of conflicting policies and even causing border controls against citizens of other states. Could you imagine approaching something tend to a hundred times deadlier than covered with this sort of flailing? The virus would finish Us Harvey. Also thinks voluntary,
warrant should be more widely practiced and available on demand. By this he means offer
temporary accommodation to people who have been exposed to protect the people they live with. This is important because close extended indoor contact is the surest way to catch someone's infectious,
disease just consider how badly covered spread a nursing homes. Now it may seem heartless. This suggests that someone consider separating from their housemaids her family but saying you should quarantine at home, is an invitation to and
fact everyone there, while only getting ad hoc homespun medical care, unless you happen to live with
doctor or nurse, is that less heartless or more
imagine someone's instead offered a free stay at a hotel. That's been shuttered by a pandemic Harvey outlined a compelling pitch to me. You could stay somewhere, other people would pay
hundreds of dollars a day to live it. You'll have room service because that enable social distancing
You'll have twenty four seven zoom access to everyone. You love by in house broadband. Ok,
you won't get spa services, but you will protect your family for the next ten to fifteen days, quarantine locations could have trained for
on ready to manage mild infections much better than most people's housemates, and if things turn ugly, someone under quarantine could be transferred smoothly in directly to a hospital,
We haven't seen much of this sort of thing outside of a few places like New York setting, perhaps partly because China adopted a very coercive approach to this was what they called fevered clinics, which gave the practice a bad name. It also takes for thought, and perhaps some earmarked funding to setup
more comfortable voluntary programme and covered caught the world unawares. But we have no excuse,
for letting the next pandemic sneak up on us, especially if it's something much deadlier and more contagious and covered a complete lack of quarantine could really sink us
To all this allowed, the dead, obvious suggestion that personal protective equipment, ventilators and other defensive tools should be stockpiled to a degree that verges on absurdity and that all nations should try to establish highly local supply chains for this critical gear,
so the stockpiling should not be limited to governments. Justice
homes are mandated to have smoke, detectors, homes, stockpiles of and ninety five masks
hand, sanitizing and other essentials should be man
did by law and perhaps paid for with government funds to ensure high compliance. I
this is someone who tends to be highly and
I regulatory by nature? But if we get backed by something much worse than covered, we cannot afford months of supply, outages hoarding price, gouging and counterfeit products on the personal protection market, like we saw at the start of this pandemic, and if you think all this sounds like a totalitarian imposition recall that personal hygiene and p p use, don't just affect the person practising or not perfect.
Missing them. They affect everyone, because scarf was in free riders infect the rest of us. So this is a matter of personal freedom like choosing the junk food. It's a matter of civic obligation like refraining from drunk driving in this spirit. Universal ppp stockpiles should be accompanied by a predefined set of rules and levels
For instance, if a region goes to a certain infection level during an outbreak, universal mass swearing in public becomes mandatory
everyone knows knows the levels. Everyone
was the rules. Everyone has the
here at home, and there are no excuses
another relative novelty. We should consider seeing more of his challenge trials. These involve testing a vaccine
deliberately infecting healthy volunteers with the disease at targets. Now I know
That sounds insane, so let me explain
rationale using cove. It is an example, big covert trials and jack. Tens of thousands of people have something at the vaccine, half get completely
active placebos, then everyone waits until a couple hundred people come down with the disease.
Going about their ordinary lives if most or all of the sick people turn out to have gotten the placebo. In other words, if the people who got the vaccine don't get sick, then the vaccine is a winner. There are two issues with this approach. First, it takes a long time to recruit tens of thousands of people to take an experimental injection. Second, it can take months for enough people to get sick on their own to generate statistically significant data.
Which is normally fine, but what happens if thousands of people are dying each week if you're vaccine works and you could have saved several months by running a challenge trial, tens of thousands,
we'll die waiting for the results compared to the number of tests, subjects who might die from deliberate infection in the case of a covert challenge trial. That number may actually be zero. The reason
as you probably mostly allow young volunteers to enlist people are quite unlikely to die from the disease and instead of signing up tens of thousands of participants. You'd have just a couple hundred. Why
because you don't have to wait for a small percentage of a huge group to catch the disease. To get the couple hundred infect ease, it takes to determine efficacy because in challenge trials, everyone's infected and at least with covered, if they're, all healthy and mostly in their turn.
The odds are decent, that literally no one out of a couple hundred participants will die. But what, if one or two volunteers do die? Isn't that unconscionable well? Compare that to the tens of thousands of people who could end up not buying if your vaccine works are one or two lives worth more than
tens of thousands of lives. Well, when lawyers are involved for one thing,
One reason why we don't see challenge trials, because the Lebanon,
of someone who dies and one might see the trial manager where's
the anonymous masses who die waiting for a vaccine trial to run its course have no interest.
But mother Nature and she doesn't pay up. Another reason is that doctors are deeply scream
about imperiling anyone in their care as they should be
not only do our moral instincts scream this, but the hippocratic oath famously says first do no harm. The cultural medicine is built on that foundation, which, of course, is usually admin.
But it makes it hard to put the good of the many ahead of the good of the few. If you happen to be under your care and the many are countless strangers
now an important moral dimension. To consider about challenge trials is the mindset of the volunteers if their fully informed of the dangers has the absolutely must be. What are their motivations? Well, if they're not be
paid their probably signing up because you're willing to take a risk to help fight something awful that threatens society,
will join the? U S military after the nine eleven attacks for some.
Similar reasons. Those volunteers put their lives on the line to,
Many of them died.
Society didn't reject their offers of service. So shouldn't reject people who volunteer for challenge trials. These aren't hypothetical beings by the way tens of thousands of people have volunteered to participate in college.
Trials, be an organization called one day sooner and no one's taken.
Up on that offer. I could Philip a podcast twice as long
This one exploring the nuances of challenge trials and immorality, but only
it to you to decide where you come out on this complex issue, and if you really
want to dive into a rabbit whole google, the term trolley problem, while you're thinking it through
now the one good thing about any future pandemic is that it will happen in the future. Of course,
giving symbiosis exponential momentum some growing room, which is great
because, as I said earlier on sin Bio itself and the countess
people who will one day practicing doctoral levels. I school
rules and everything between are our best defence against evil.
Uses of biology saw clothes on an appropriately optimistic note, describing one of the cruellest things I see and send bios mid term pipeline, which is tell
porting vaccines. And yes, I mean that metaphorically, but only just
appreciate how valuable this could be. Let's imagine an artificial pathogen or something natural and much more lethal than Covid is on the loose. Having taken the various precautions I discussed earlier, we have an effective vaccine that targets its viral family, but it's incredibly deadly out there and all supply chains are fragile.
Or breaking it also takes months to manufacture hundreds of millions of vaccine doses using standard methods, let alone
billions of doses for the entire world in this situation. You'd want the vaccine
available everywhere. Now not in a few lucky places. A few months from now.
You'd also want a few miles between you and your personal dose of that vaccine as possible. So wouldn't it be great if vaccines could be printed right at the local pharmacy,
or better. Yet, in your living room entered the Bio Ex P, the dna printer I talked about earlier. It will soon be able to directly convert the four basic genetic ladders.
A cat into DNA or RNA strands, giving it unlimited flexibility and what it can write, just as for coloring chat,
can produce any imaginable image its creator Dan Gibson, actually invented it with vaccine production in mind
and particularly RNA vaccines, a new technology which is behind the wildly exciting vaccines from Pfizer in Madeira and here's where his tell importing terms
and imagine you have the genetic code of a working vaccine at the centre of your system at the centre for Disease Control in Atlanta say, if you now print that genetic strand and thousands of pharmacies and doctors offices you ve, basically teleport it at throughout your
network now, simply simply printing strand of rna doesn't give you and rna vaccine. There are several additional steps, often referred to as fillin finnish dances,
The bioethics, p team is building these steps right into the machine. He believes fully. Integrated systems should be operational in pharmacies and doctors. Offices within three to five years,
as for consumer friendly homes systems, keep its those in the ten plus here time range, which I'm sure sounds like science fiction.
But mostly what's happening and send Biota day, would have sounded like science fiction to the top people in the field. When the human genome project
was wrapping up just seventeen years ago. As with most of what everyday folks do with computing
today compared to the minimal things that were possible on the world's most powerful computers just a few decades ago. That's the thing about exponential technologies. They can deliver science fiction in short time frames. Of course, they can also enable evil or disturbed people to wreak terrible devastation, but they can and able to rest of us to prevent that devastation. If we
The foresight to do it as we come to the end of this survey of what could go wrong with engineered pandemics, which is practically everything and what we can do to protect ourselves. There's lots of reasons for optimism. There are many steps we can take to nip tomorrow's problems in the bud. Most of them have huge dual use, benefits and fighting the natural diseases that clobber us constantly and their costs are tiny compared to their benefits. To finish, making this case for optimism, let's dial up your internet
inspection, writer, one more time? Imagine it's! Ten to fifteen years from now, a smart person with a biology background in a crippling emotional disease has decided to inflict a debt
stating pandemic on the world, he has access to a dna print
with a raw horse power to crank out any viral GINO and tools, we can scarcely imagine today which easily translate printed gene
Holmes into replicating viruses. Worst of all, the dark web has given in the genetic code of that contagious each five and one flu which there's researchers created all those years ago, only it's an upgraded version which some darkly motivated bio hackers have made wildly contagious way. More
than covert, but luckily are deeply disturbed protagonists lives in a world in which we had the foresight to defend ourselves from his attack years before he even thought of launching it strong laws.
Why are all dna printers? Not just eighty percent of them to scan for deadly sequences before printing
We think so. The only way to make his virus is from scratch using methods that only
few elite scientists ever other d learn many years ago,
we became automated, that's a huge wainwright there, because without one step we radically constrained the number of people who could do something awful and other.
The population of one circle in our Van diagram, those who could kill Millions- has plummeted greatly, reducing the chances it ever intersects with the other circle which contains the people who'd like to kill millions. But let's say this person actually is an aging elite scientist who still
It was the obsolete methods of making viruses from scratch, and then he somehow infects a few people with his creation. Now
early detection system kicks in monitoring the air wastewater and surfaces and hundreds of cities daily with two
there are several generations beyond what we have today
and everyone with a viral infection is diagnosed and log. The moment they show up at a clinic and many more are feeding and data from simple rapid tests. They take it home. So, unlike with Covid, the very first victims light up the global public health radar. If we're lucky and smart by then virtually all humans have had a universal flu
seen anyway, which would stop an h five n one outbreak in its tracks. Since it's in the influenza family, we've also made huge investments in therapeutics for influenza
along with dozens of other viral families, which can help cure the unboxing. Eighty people who get set
and, if somewhere in the world, there's a large unvaccinated geography and the epidemic
Madame there we can fight
back and are unified command for fighting disease. There's plenty of masks and ventilators
no one's in a bidding war to access them and with an hour
If that local outbreak vaccines tell importing into its pharmacies and even some living rooms, killing the outbreak in its crib. So that's my case for optimism
We do have time to create a global immune system. Before this happens, he can be multi layered.
And, like our own immune systems, agile and adaptive, with the diversity of tools to tackle whatever threat emerges. The case for pessimists,
Is it this immune system will not build itself? We've watched so much in the face of covid and if we respond to covets hope for defeat
in the same way responded to the end of Sars. This news bar could be the end of us
so for all. My optimism, there's absent,
sadly, no room for complacency.
The new year in biology could put us in the best position we ve ever occupied.
In relation to disease, but only if we make
right investments and take the right precautions today.
Ok! Well, I'm back with Rob Red Rob you find
They brought us to us something like a glimmer of day.
Here. At the end, let's talk about
we might yet survive. How'd you
characterize your own outlook here
at the moment how optimistic area I would
That extremely optimistic for somebody who
really marinated as much as I have in the twin dangers of
suicidal mass murder and the relentless exponential advances and bio- not happy too
topics and I've been marinating them in them for much longer than I liked you, since, even before the pandemic,
For somebody who is really grappled with those issues I gotTa Sam wildly optimistic because the science and technology that's in the pipeline is just so promising and the dead obvious things that we fumbled during coded should be incredibly fixable, especially with a
covered mindset which will give us should give us all the political will. We need to invest in fixing them and said definitely optimistic, and I think it's important to Highlight-
because the last thing you want to do in talking about this stuff is to bring people directly from a state of denial to say to despair,
you don't do anything and either one of those states in the first one denial, you don't see a problem and in despair. You think it's hopeless. In neither case is your equally motionless, and I think this is actually a problem that the environmental movement had. I mean not just pick on an inconvenient truth, which I thought was absolutely brilliant, but I did think it had the tendency to put people on an express train from denial to despair and there's definitely
Oh, did you despair here? We can absolutely partners in bio infrastructure to make it really really hard for any, but the most brilliant and determine people to do something awful that is doable. We can
definitely invest in a viral vaccines and therapeutics I mean the cost of investment is trivial compared to the likely returns and all the rest of us, and in doing that, really make ourselves a hard target for future pandemics, whether it's artificial
solar natural, so yeah on on the balanced, I think, there's just so much we can do that can be so helpful.
Ok, so let's talk about some of the topics. You re
in this final chapter
where are we with the far Pharisee light technology?
far. You b C has had unbelievably promising signs in the lab, but so far it's been
relatively small academic studies and- and we need more- I mean the next step really is too to do rigorous, FDA quality tests that fully establish whether these wavelengths annihilate pathogens, as we think they do without damaging human human health, which is obviously unbelievably vital. If we're going to contemplate exposing people to these lights, for
long periods of time during flu season or in the case of a pandemic. The signs are really promising, but we we do need to do more if, if things really work out,
I'm like almost any the other measures on talking about this one could be really expensive if we go on
but we only go all in an incremental manner, starting with that relatively cheap step of proving the stuff out, and this could easily turn out to be a complete flop for uvc light but, like I said, the recording, that's
completely fine, because what we're testing this were also, hopefully testing things like the Bcg vaccine and dozens of other things they're. Just some incredible super weapons,
against pandemics, almost inevitably in the Tec and scientific pipelines. We just need to turn over there
So anyway, if far
we see light is everything we hope. The next thing will need to do
is figure out how to make led lights that emit them, because the current bulbs are just huge, they're, clunky they're, unbelievably expensive, and they threw off way too much heat for use in public spaces just way too much maintenance and
else now. Getting leds to emit Far uvc light, we'll take significant,
de work in the whole history of Ellie Dees is one of the industry turning its attention to new wavelengths of light and figuring out how to make them after some heroic r and d efforts at in turning figuring out how to make blue Ellie delight,
was actually particularly difficult. Mr really interesting story behind that which will go into but the daily the industry is good at this end. At these
basically is all about really precisely
tuning. The alloys of the Leds semiconductors, but
Are you? The sea has already been demonstrated analogy in the lab, I think in Japan. So we know it's possible. It's it's a matter of
bringing the science and technology and once the technology
style in. We would need to build a fab or a fabrication plant to build the led bulbs, which is probably a multi billion dollar proposition. So, like I said not cheap, but one that we would never take unless we had high confidence, this is going to have a huge roi for society. Then, once we're making the bulbs, the question becomes how many bulbs and who pays for them
So if these things actually work, we'd clearly want them in public transit. I mean just imagine how much safer a subway car would be if ninety nine
nine nine percent of the pathogens in it are killed every few minutes, which is what the the science at MIT shows as possible, and we also probably want to put the been big public spaces. So, basically, we'd have a lot of local governments buying bulbs
stalling the maintaining them etc. As for where you go beyond that, it's probably a bunch of private decisions.
You, like stores in restaurants, might install them if customers call for them or want them, you maybe more to keep safe from food
oh and flew season, then pandemics in normal times, and
businesses want. Solomon office is also with flew in mind to cut down on six days which peace which would pay for an awful lot of balls
The bottom line, if you vc, becomes widespread it'll cost a lot, but it'll be a lot of justified in a criminal investments made by people who are thinking rationally and the path to it. A reward. Why deployment you know feels like it should be less than ten years?
Second, it be right around the corner. There's a lot of work to be done in building a fab takes time that this is absolutely something
an immediate future, if it, if it makes sense,
while, on the other end of the spectrum here, we have this
you vaccine, which I only just heard about during Covid disk,
but this is and why we can't get it
says to it, even though it seems like an incredibly promising vaccine,
for a variety of reasons will,
what it is and why we can't get access to it here in the US are kind of the same answer, which is it it's a tuberculosis is vaccine. It's frontline for infant tuberculosis, so so it's given. You know shortly after birth to a high majority. The babies who are born
on earth in any given year, but it's never been given in the
it states, because while it was developed in the twenties- and we definitely had tuberculosis problem back then so I can't really
say why we never had it, but the? U S, I think, by the time universal.
Program started kicking in. I think it was much later than the twenty invented in the twenties
things more like fifty six even seventies before countries began implementing universal vaccine programmes
and by the s you had the first antibiotics and antibiotics can be quite effective against adult tuberculosis, also against infants infants, and so I think, they're just wasn't a
tv problem in the: U S by the time these vaccination programmes really started coming online and
There is this unbelievably promising data going all
way back to the nineteen twenties about these e g, protecting against all kinds of things other than tuberculosis, above all, respiratory infections and broad spectrum protection against respiratory infections, the most recent study of which was quite recent. Everything was concluded just last year in Greece, and in that case there were basically taking older adults who are
checking out of hospitals, I think people fifty five an up and have them. We got the besieged vaccine and half of them did not got a placebo, and the statistic was that eighty percent of those who got the vaccine had an eighty percent reduced incidents of any kind of respiratory infections and a fifty percent reduce incidents of infections of all time. So these all this really intriguing data and then
course. There was that unbelievable data that was in the proceedings of the national economies, science that showed this huge inverse correlation between National Bc G vaccination rates near and Kovac cases. Now the thing is most of the state and not the greek study, but most of the state is what happened. He me I'll just call ecological data, which means it stated that groups of people rather than individual case studies, and also it comes from observing,
studies rather than hands on work with injections and patients, so that inverse correlation of amongst countries classic ecological data, but obviously to get a vaccine approved.
Specific disease. You have to pack cause and effect in individual subjects. In other words, you have to do a classic double blind test with control groups and a full phase. Three trial for FDA approval is generally beyond the reach of academic budgets and the people who have been poking at Bcg Yard or are mostly academics. Where is farming?
Chinese they're just not going to spend their limited capital on testing a seven sent vaccine. That's in the public domain is just a money in that and am- and I hope I'm not over pimping MIKE podcast here and if I M just tell me but I'll, be posting a really detail, an interview
with a Harvard epidemiologists thing: Megan Murray, about all this stuff, probably shortly after you post this conversation, and they can actually is hard at work on developing and trying to find a face three trial, despite being an academic and strongly being a farmer thing and were counting on her to do this rather than Pfizer, because you see
It's a market failure. This is no deep, pocketed players who are intended to do this research, and we we really need effects this. For two reasons. The most obvious one is that if Bcg actually can protect against covered in, we dont know, but if it can, even if it's a longshot figuring, this out would totally changed the global vaccination timeline because there's twenty two
besieging manufacturers throughout the world, and there are distribution channels for Beseech tee into almost all the developing world, with armies of people who know how to stored and minister the vaccine
and it's obviously just morally urgent to speed up the acceleration in poor countries, but is also in the selfish interests of rich countries that are about to get all the fighter in Madeira vaccines. They need, because every person, the covert and facts is another opportunity for two new Tate and covered is incredibly prone to mutation as well,
seeing from these terrifying new strains elite, one of which is the south african One, is partly resistant vaccines, and so, if we take our guard down after you know, wealthy countries are vaccinated. If covered keeps rampaging amongst billions of people. We can pretty much count
a new strain emerging which can steamroller through all of our hard and defend.
And so we need a great phase, three trial test of Bcg against covered, whether its Megan's or someone else's.
Even if it's a longshot because of this we pass this test would cost tens of billions of dollars, not the billion plus we spent on each candidate for project warp. Speed is there's no vaccine to be developed since the task, and there are luckily some huge philanthropists like bill gates who started investing in BC.
With an eye toward covid. But we shouldn't sit around and wait for somebody to gift this to the world. I just
be an immediate public investment and
the other reason to do this to study beseeching much more deeply beyond cove. It is this apparent protection.
And respiratory diseases in general, because you know that in the the initial trial in Greece, which is a very promising, but that very initial that pattern
hold up. It could be a real game. Changer against the flu against future pandemics, which are almost sure to be respiratory. Nature can all kinds of things, but there's a lot to be studied like how frequently does
decisions need to be given to have this effect is a work in all age. Groups is particularly effective against a certain class of respiratory infections and so forth.
So again we shouldn't be waiting for someone to gift this to the world, particularly as an initial set of academic studies would cost very very little year. We have
We have become increasingly sensitive to market failures in this domain. Public health, general land, but here
across all of the front of
We're running something like existential risk, my wooden leg,
with the problem of producing antibiotics in a market that can't effectively incentivize it. So we have antibiotics,
that are losing their power over really
every bug that concerns us
meandering toward a time that will
the indistinguishable from them? Nineteen twin.
He's in thirty's when we simply didn't he
have the drugs that could solve our most basic infectious disease problems.
And the reason is, there's nothin
No money in it. You take
a new antibiotic costs a billion dollars to produce, and you take it
for ten days,
in your life and then
That is, if you're unlucky, most people don't have to take them,
any specific new antibiotic ever read and yet
you need it. This is the one drug that's going to save your life United States we have to, and this is
the role of government or major
philanthropy about some level. We just have to say the weather
makes any market sense in
any rational time horizon for a business person
We have to spend money on these things. Yeah we've basically stood by as multiple antibiotic companies have gone out of business
in the U S, and it is allowed this market failure to propagate. To the point that you know, who's even
Helping new and about a second, we think of a couple companies that even in that this is anymore and we're not really talk.
We're talking more about viruses than than bacteria hearing the serious. But that is an equally glaring issue and in a something that one estimate that I saw you know super bugs could could easily be killing millions of people
per year within ten years yeah. What are the prospects of
Developing vaccines for whole classes of viruses
universal Flu vaccine and Universal corona virus vaccine. What have you uncovered on this front? Will this actually ties to what you're just saying about market failures, because it seems I ve talking to some pretty inform people in this in this domain, that a universal flu vaccine effort would probably have very good chances of succeeding. At least fifty percent, which is a shot worth taking and
the budget that I was quoted was you know, probably in the range of two hundred million dollars over ten years, with kind of
extreme like why? Don't we just for safety go up an order of magnitude budget of two billion dollars over ten years and
you look at those numbers in you, you remember that the flu
is costing the? U s alone, three hundred and six,
one billion dollars a year and lost productivity and medical spending, and you it's just flabbergasted get. I couldn't believe my ears when that budget estimate was quoted to me and it couldn't have come from a more informed person whose Harvey Fine Burg he's the former president of the National Academy in medicine
former Jean of the Harvard School of Public health. In and more to the point, he sent a lotta work setting the potential for a year for universal flu vaccine, including at the saving vaccine institute, and
So this is just another stunning market failure to me if you can spend sick. The worst case scenario, two billion dollars over ten years for the chance,
saving three hundred sixty one billion dollars a year, even if the one percent chance you should take that, as you know, in according to Harvey, it's probably more like a fifty to seventy five percent chance and
You know once again to go back to what you were saying about antibiotics. This is you know why this?
isn't happening. Will farm is not going to do this because
a lousy business proposition to make a cheap vaccine that people might only use? Just once I mean one of the models for universal flu vaccine is one and done in a lifetime. You hopefully never need again.
Gets even even if its annual every five year some farm accompanies just won't do this unless they are presented with non market incentives, and so there's that
but then, obviously this is also just a shocking failure of public policy
because the ROI on on this would be profound. Now the optimistic way,
looking at this, which I prefer is to say,
there's just so much low hanging fruit here and hardly find bird believes that you know much as we could create a universal vaccine effort for influenza. We could do that against any arbitrary number of viral families and and
I think I mentioned the recording. You know he would suggest we start with influence and corona virus get good at that, and then start
tackling more and that there's only a couple dozen viral families that actually infect humans and there's probably also
a couple of other zoonotic diseases out their viral families that don't currently infect us that we want to be careful of
Even if you multiply this out by every family we can think of by
two billion dollars over ten years that the numbers that come back are just minuscule just compared to. I mean, like I said earlier, compared to what we spend maintaining our nuclear arsenal on an annual basis minuscule compared anything that seems
a comparable and you don't, especially when we think of how quickly these covered vaccines were created just day.
In the case of Madera, so we're obviously in a completely new age when it comes to vaccine science, which screams for just ambitious new goals, for
vaccine science, yeah and and we've not only accelerated the time, it takes to produce the vaccine itself, but we
with accelerated the approval process, an assassin.
It accelerated even further. If we changed our cause,
benefit analysis in how we do research. Obviously we're doing research now under duress with a global pandemic, crushing
economies and killing hundreds of thousands of people,
and even just in the United States, but damn
what role would challenge trials play here,
because it is something that many people first heard about in risk
months under covered by
controversial. But how do you think about this? I think that the right way to look at it in the ditch, ultimately an ethical question, so we can safely say that there's no one quote right answer to this can under him, but I do think that it helps a great deal
put concrete numbers on the assets and liabilities in terms of human lives. Of the two approaches said it just quickly. Review challenge trial would involve deliberately infecting of much smaller number of people. Then you would have in a normal trial with covert the numbers were really really stark and normal covered trial. You're talking tens of thousands of volunteers. They get that huge number of people because they need to wait until there's the centrally. Maybe two hundred irish people have
I'm down with Toby from that vast base of thirty forty fifty thousand people, and once two hundred, if people have definitively tested for covered, they can basically take off the blinders and figure out which one of those which which are those people were in the control arm of the trial,
which of those people actually got the vaccine and based on that, you can come up with these exciting numbers like ninety five percent effective. Now, if you're, just
doing a challenge trial, and you know all those people are be infected instead of fifty thousand people. You might just need two hundred people or maybe a little bit more. You know just in case you know some data points bounce out for some reason so
that really collapses the timeframe and to compare a challenge trial with a normal.
I'll. Let's imagine if I dont know exactly how long a challenge trial would take, but recruiting two hundred people would be harder
per person basis cause you're asking them to submit to a hell of a lot more than just an experimental vaccine, you're asking them to contract Kobe, but, as I said in the recording twenty thousand people
I think it is of already expressed a willingness to participate in challenge trials through a group called one day sooner
already body of people recruiting, presumably would not
be anywhere near the challenge that it is with fifty thousand volunteers and then, in terms of the time frame the year.
Affecting the Monday one. So you're not waiting months and months and months for people to contract things need seems logical that this timeframe could collapse into. You know a very very low number of months. Let's talk like a
about the asked romantic. A vaccine, as I was able to find cobble together detailed time, went on that its last phase of trials started in the UK on May twenty eight
They eventually recruited was a smaller trial. Twenty three thousand volunteers, mostly in the UK, but also in
So now there was some weirdness with his trial that people might remember. There was a pause to it because of an adverse reactions and one of the volunteers, but that was only a sixty pause, turns out
so it generally proceeded along its timely and the results of this trial room were reported out on November twenty third, so in other words it ran for just under six months and most of that time was spent, recruiting all those volunteers and then waiting for enough of them to test positive for the trial to have a statistically significant result. Now, during this six month period for Meda November, over a million people died of covert worldwide, while what
turned out to be an impressively effective vaccine was slowly and methodically tested, and we can probably assume that other vaccine trials had a similar, timely timelines. I just happen to know the dates with Austria. Seneca now challenged trial, obviously wouldn't have been instantaneous, but it would shave months off that timeline not weeks during a time when thousands of people are dying every day, but it would have involved deliberately
affecting a couple hundred people with Covet, while most of them would have presumably been younger volunteers, so fatality rate would have probably been extremely low. It's all too likely that one or more of those people would have died, and it's also likely that very
a few of those two hundred people would have clock covered on their own, so you know
How do you balance the ethics out of that? The numbers are enormous, hundreds of thousands or a million people dying during the running of this trial versus perhaps
a tiny handful or even want, or even no people dying in a challenge trial. But it's it's very much like the trolley problem. Isn't it
yeah, except with the variable of consent here, which I think is ethically decisive.
So I I just there's no argument against someone
into consent to a channel
trial once they,
understand the risks there,
running and the possible benefits me
and, as you say about the surprising, but it is just a demonstrated fact that you can find people eager to serve.
On this front and you can find people eager to take all kinds of risks that
You know any individual. Listen to this
might never entertain themselves. One
thirty one way ticket to Mars off
you can be sure, are going to be thousands of volunteers
You know a willing to die on Mars
spirit of wanting to advance the the
project and be part of something of something great, and in this case the
the relevant variables here around just how
Widespread d: the onus is at each point when you in trials are being run, images that affects how long have to wait around for people to catch them the virus.
Naturally affects it and it the
For anyone in rolling in a trial. What what? What a? How different is? It
challenge trial. If this virus is burning,
go quickly through the population that you seem guaranteed to get it anyway, but I do think
and sand is the master.
Variable here ethically, and yet we certainly should be,
talking about running challenge trials under circumstances
this where we were having to respond to a pandemic. There
is burning out of control. It would be different if we're preemptively
trying to design aim a universal flu vaccine or universal crown of irish vaccine.
Under conditions where we don't feel like were
only losing thousands of
a day to a pandemic, but
is very interesting, and it's that amazing that people
great yeah. I mean I guess it's kind of like the people who volunteered for the US military military,
on eleven knew they were young, there's a big surge assign ups and these people were certainly signing up to risk. Their lives and the government didn't tell them no we're not going to accept her service and in a sense you know, because I don't think there is any serious conversation about a challenge trial at all, and this could
period was Aramis. I don't think there was. I remember it being spoken about an obviously that they people volunteered, but I think most of it
conversation I heard about it was going on in the UK
I? U S
yeah. I mean it another thing to think about which, when it comes to this rule,
You later saying: no, you can't do that type of thing. Is it it's interesting that I guess both will? Certainly the russian vaccine- and I believe, the chinese vaccine as well have started coming out there, just starting to be some independent research. That's signifying that these are actually reasonably effective vaccine
and involve camp cases. The country's started administering the vaccines without waiting for face three data which, at the time was generally viewed as sir or discussed as being a particularly bad idea, Leeson, I think I'd say the western media, but as
finding out that these things actually work. You know, maybe that's another policy that policy makers should consider, along with challenged trials with in future problems. Come up.
Because you know imagine if it's always easy to do something. Looking with a better
of hindsight but imagine if the
after said, ok, you know modernize come up with this vaccine,
it's gonna go through rigorous trials at hasn't yet, but were in an emergency time here. So
any? U S? Citizen? Who is courageous enough to take the chance and
willing to sign. You know a thick legal document saying that they're not going to sue or anything is welcome to take this vaccine, and you know it's an experimental vaccine, so there could be bad effects
probably unlikely cause it already, and I think that our data and a safety trial before a phase three, but you know, may not work against covered at all. We could come
imagine perhaps millions of people- and I would have certainly entertain that idea if there aren't even a safety trial on this thing, I mean why not and-
You know. If millions are, tens of millions of people have been vaccinated with modern Pfizer, Johnson and Johnson. Whoever knows who knows what else?
during the six months of trial times. We might already be. You know
the end of this thing already he others. The safety stage is, is the most important
hard from my point of view, namely what whether its effective or not is obviously important, but its thee.
First do no harm principle which shut. I think everyone is right
We focused on especially with the vaccine, because you're, not as I
and pointed out many times before
this is a medication are giving to healthy people.
By and large is not an intervention
a new form of chemotherapy when all other forms have failed. You a warrior
but you have to lose in this
as you have a lot to lose. If, if the vaccine is basically unsafe,
I guess it. The now
Multi of the current batch was,
relevant here, emanate them the more we the more work we do in this area and the more and he knew
Axion has already been pre
characterized by similar vaccine
in the past. In a word,
by similar MAC mechanism. Perhaps the safety concerns get dial down quicker.
Yeah, but particularly in your right with the r r in a vacuum- MRI, Nay back scenes. This was a completely new type of vaccine and safety testing was especially important, but now that we have seen that these apparently are very safe accedes yeah, I do hope the policymakers take a different approach like, for instance, with booster shots.
Other modern Pfizer, I believe, are already working on booster shots to take care of the south african and british variations. If we do,
need to go through a six month. Trial press
for those to get a perfect phase three. I would certainly hope that there would be an option given to adventurous people, which would certainly include myself, who are willing to take the chance.
This is an efficacious to get the vaccine before the phase. Three is done because we are in an emergency situation. Here, your wallet
as should be obvious to everyone who has followed us this far. This is the beginning of the year
invitation not the end.
Damn. I know you and I were both
together end and independently, keep our attention
on this front and will certainly surface any good
ideas. We come across any organizations that her
moving the dial here, whether it's in the philanthropic space or for profit or
rumors of government actions that seem auspicious is really just needs to be
kept front of mind here, pandemic response generally
of the apocalypse problem
more narrowly. This is really something that,
our generation has been tasked to figure out and
just want to, thank you rob for producing such a
comprehensive and comprehensible document
Transcript generated on 2021-05-22.