The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is committed to harnessing DOE capabilities to drive innovation to prevent future pandemics, protect America, and protect agriculture. We are therefore taking key steps to support implementation of the Biden-Harris Administration’s “National Biodefense Strategy and Implementation Plan for Countering Biological Threats, Enhancing Pandemic Preparedness, and Achieving Global Health Security (the Strategy).”
DOE has a deep history and extensive capabilities in biology, chemistry, materials science, high performance computing, building technologies, and national security, which all contribute to the overall strategy for biodefense. The world-leading capabilities at our scientific user facilities have supported biomedical and biodefense-related research for decades – including addressing biological threats to humans, animals, plants, and the environment. The DOE Office of Science stood up the National Virtual Biotechnology Laboratory (NVBL) in 2020 to address key technical issues in the fight against COVID-19. The NVBL delivered highly impactful results like epidemiological information, new virus testing protocols, potential candidates for antiviral drugs, information on the fate and transport of the virus in buildings, and manufacturing solutions to stem the shortages of face masks, test kits, and other supplies. Research and capabilities like the NVBL allow DOE to continue to support biodefense and pandemic preparedness.
Harnessing DOE’s Research and Development (R&D) Capabilities for Biopreparedness and Response
In FY 2022, the DOE Office of Science initiated the Biopreparedness Research Virtual Environment (BRaVE), which leverages the highly successful framework established by the NVBL and broadens its capabilities to provide a virtual platform for driving innovation and to rapidly mobilize DOE’s R&D assets in response to national crises. As such, BRaVE will provide a single portal through which a distributed network of capabilities and multidisciplinary expertise across the DOE national laboratories can be coordinated to focus on priorities to address future needs in biopreparedness and response. BRaVE will support and expand biopreparedness-related capabilities across DOE’s national laboratories in key areas, such as advancement of capabilities in computation and artificial intelligence/machine learning (AI/ML) - enabled models and data analysis utilizing DOE’s high-performance computing resources; enhancement of capabilities at DOE’s user facilities for use by the broader biology research community; development of next-generation biological and analytical technologies to understand biological processes and function at the molecular level; and production of important medical isotopes.
Foundational Science and Innovation for Biopreparedness
In March 2022, the DOE Office of Science convened a roundtable to obtain input from the broader scientific community, including representatives from national laboratories, industry, and other government agencies (such as NIH, CDC, DOD, and others), on how DOE’s Office of Science efforts in biopreparedness could be further enhanced by leveraging its unique strengths in innovation involving the physical, computational, and biological sciences. This roundtable defined five priority research objectives in which DOE could contribute to our nation’s efforts in biopreparedness and implementation of the Strategy:
- Decode Pathogen Emergence, Evolution, and Host-Pathogen Dynamics in Real Time to enable next generation detection and characterization of pathogens
- Build a Multiscale Understanding of Biomolecular Interactions to Catalyze Design of Targeted Interventions by employing DOE’s high-performance computing and structural biology capabilities
- Elucidate Multiscale Ecosystem Complexities for Robust Epidemiological Modeling using DOE’s capabilities in high-performance computing, AI/ML, and data science capabilities
- Exploit Biotic–Abiotic Interfaces to Accelerate Design, Discovery, and Manufacturing of Materials for Biopreparedness
- Accelerate Biopreparedness by Integrating Experimentation, Computing, and Globally Distributed Data
The outcomes of the Roundtable will be used to inform DOE’s Office of Science efforts to transform biopreparedness (BRaVE program) and will be extensible to other biodefense innovation efforts as well.
National Security Expertise to Address Emerging Global Biothreats
DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration plans to initiate a Bioassurance Program that will advance U.S. capabilities to anticipate, assess, detect, and mitigate emerging global biothreats, including biotechnology and biomanufacturing risks. In coordination with the BRaVE Program and other DOE efforts, the NNSA Bioassurance Program will promote multidisciplinary applied research and innovation to anticipate and mitigate emerging, global, biological threats. It will also ensure that NNSA’s unique capabilities, including leadership-class computing and experimental facilities, are ready to support rapid response and mitigation requirements of potential incidents of national significance, whether they are natural, accidental, or intentional in origin.