Growing global biosecurity: Highlights from 8 our international partnerships 

April 13 2023

In the battle against emerging biological threats, we look beyond isolated, one-time approaches and embrace the power of collaboration to take swift and decisive action. Coordination across countries is vital as we build a network of nodes in a global immune system to inform local and international public health strategies. In recent months, we’ve grown partnerships around the world to empower countries with solutions that enable data-driven responses to biological risks. Here are the budding programs driving us toward a more resilient future.

Africa CDC: Enhancing biosecurity throughout the continent

A three-year partnership with the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention will help instill biosecurity resilience for the entire continent. Our experts will assess existing automation, data analysis and bioinformatics capabilities for Africa Union Member States. Then, we’ll expand throughput so countries can design informed capital strategies around automation and lab capacity.

“Collaboration is part of Africa CDC’s mission to build a resilient health system that can be called on to fight multiple diseases,” said Dr. John Nkengasong, Director of Africa CDC. “The partnership with Ginkgo Bioworks will further infuse regional laboratory networks across the continent with best practices in the cutting-edge fields of automation, data analysis and bioinformatics, and ultimately, save lives.”

Australia: Studying AMR to improve One Health

Agriculture’s wide use of antibiotics makes farms fertile ground for antimicrobial resistance (AMR) gene presence and abundance. Research at the farm level, like our Project Agricultural AMR Surveillance with Agriculture Victoria Research, will be crucial to understanding how AMR develops. The 8-week study could reveal new opportunities to further One Health’s mission of optimizing health for people, animals, and the environment.

Botswana: Equipping a long-term biosecurity workforce

One of biosecurity’s leading challenges is balancing current risks with threats beyond the horizon. Our partnership with Botswana Ministry of Health will tap into elements of our biosecurity platform to handle both. We’ll equip local institutions with tools, training, and data infrastructure needed to maximize automation, data analysis, and other genomic sequencing technologies. 

“Biological threats will continue to emerge, whether through travel, zoonotic spillover, or other means, and they will continue to put a strain on health care institutions in our country and globally,” said Grace Muzila, Permanent Secretary for the Botswana Ministry of Health & Wellness. “As a result, we need to put in place the tools that will enable us to detect and respond to these public health threats in future. We look forward to partnering with Ginkgo to bring Botswana into a new era of biosecurity innovation that will support our critical public health needs.”

The new capabilities will be put to use in pathogen monitoring programs at strategic nodes, including ports of entry and agricultural settings, as well as plant the seeds for a long-term biosecurity workforce. Empowering local institutions can help the country continually improve public health and address broader health security challenges such as zoonotic spillover.

Qatar: Bringing next-gen biosecurity to an international hub

The World Cup was the latest example of Qatar as a hub for international travel. Plans to use our platform to bolster Qatar’s pathogen monitoring infrastructure will support their goal of becoming a leader in next-generation biosecurity. 

An in-airport monitoring program formed with First Serv is poised to help provide early warning to the local community and countries around the globe. “As the COVID-19 pandemic transitions to an endemic phase, the world needs a new industry built around next-generation biosecurity. We are excited about our plans to partner with Ginkgo in support of their market-leading capabilities in this sector,” said Sheikh Sultan Jassim Al Thani, Chairman for First Serv. “We believe Qatar is uniquely placed to provide a significant biosecurity service to the world, beginning with this effort.”

Rwanda: Evolving the bioeconomy to spark innovation

Our partnership with Rwanda has had two exciting announcements in the past few months. In August, we began a program with the Rwanda Development Board to evolve Rwanda’s bioeconomy. We’re collaborating to find workforce development priorities for biotechnology, biomanufacturing, and bioengineering. 

There’s also a focus on exploring how to help the country leverage its rich biodiversity as a foundation for innovation.“The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the need for robust public health and biotechnology infrastructure in Rwanda and around the world,” said Clare Akamanzi, the Chief Executive Officer of the Rwanda Development Board. We are excited about our plans to partner with Ginkgo to bring cutting-edge biosecurity capabilities to Rwanda across various sectors including health and agriculture. We believe this will stimulate our growing bioeconomy and help us learn more about our biodiversity.”

More recently, we’ve embarked on a one-year pathogen monitoring program alongside Rwanda Biomedical Centre at Rwanda’s Kigali International Airport to identify new and emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants. According to Professor Claude Muvunyi, Director General of Rwanda Biomedical Centre, “As we continue to feel the impacts of emerging variants and pathogens, we recognize the need to create a sustainable public health and biosecurity infrastructure in Rwanda and internationally. We are thrilled to launch this program at Kigali International Airport in partnership with Ginkgo to enhance our biosecurity capabilities.”

Ukraine: Closing biosecurity gaps in crisis zones

Amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the war, the risk of infectious diseases spreading in Ukraine has increased. A pilot program run with the Ukraine Ministry of Health will implement a nimble, on-the-ground biosecurity program for monitoring of biological threats found in critical wastewater systems. The program can be utilized to address biosecurity gaps during acute moments of crisis, where public health infrastructure has been affected by adverse circumstances.

“The simultaneous impacts of the war, the destruction of our health infrastructure, and the COVID-19 pandemic among other pathogens, have increased the Ukrainian people’s exposure to biosecurity risks,” said Oksana Koshalko, Head of the Department of Organization of Epidemiological Surveillance, Public Health Center of the Ukraine Ministry of Health. “We are dedicated to working hard to support our people’s well-being as well as minimizing all risks and safeguarding public health through these extreme circumstances. Working with Ginkgo allows us to leverage innovative solutions to support our health system and our citizens’ well-being during a time of uncertainty.”

U.S. CDC: Expanding in-airport monitoring

Formed alongside the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and XpresCheck, the Traveler-Based Genomic Surveillance program monitors for COVID-19 variants at U.S. airports.  By studying pathogens as they arrive on international flights, experts gain vital lead time to learn how new variants behave. The head start empowers officials to devise countermeasures and strategies to help mitigate public health impacts. 

In the past six months, the program has nearly doubled with additions at Dulles International Airport, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Los Angeles International Airport. We also launched a pilot program to target influenza viruses, which will help inform the selection of influenza vaccine viruses for the forthcoming 2023-2024 flu season.

“This program has clearly demonstrated its potential to provide early warning for new COVID-19 variants, allowing researchers and public health officials across the country time to prepare for targeted response,” said Dr. Cindy Friedman, Chief of CDC’s Traveler’s Health Branch, who has been helping us lead the program. “As many countries ramp down their pathogen surveillance efforts, we expect the partnership will play an increasingly important role not just nationally, but globally.”

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