In the fall of 2010, the U.S. National Academies (consisting of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the Institute of Medicine, and the National Research Council) and the Russian Academy of Sciences, in cooperation with the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences and the Russian Academy of Agricultural Sciences, established a joint committee of 12 prominent scientists from the United States and Russia to review past and current U.S.-Russian bioengagement activities and to propose future directions for cooperation that will serve the interests of both countries. (See Appendix A.1 for biographies of committee members.) The U.S. Department of State and the Russian Academy of Sciences supported the committee’s efforts.
The Statement of Task that the committee addressed is as follows:
The committee will carry out an assessment of U.S.-Russian bioengagement activities during the past 15 years, with particular attention to the impacts of various types of engagement activities, lessons learned from engagement activities that are relevant for future U.S.-Russian engagement programs, and future approaches to U.S.-Russian bioengagement, particularly approaches that build on the foundations for cooperation that have been established during recent years.
CONTEXT FOR THE REPORT
For decades, many Russian and American organizations and individual scientists have recognized the importance of working together on a bilateral basis in the biological sciences and biotechnology (hereinafter collectively referred to as bioengagement). Often they have developed and carried out programs within the frameworks of formal intergovernmental agreements. At other times, they have
conducted joint activities under a variety of less formal arrangements, ranging from handshakes between individual scientific leaders to institution-to-institution memoranda of understanding.
Collaborative efforts have been broad ranging. For example, they have extended from (a) enhancing biosafety systems at Russian research centers, to (b) fusing biology and chemistry in exploring molecular structures in the laboratories of both countries, to (c) investigating pre-historic microbes in remote areas. The two governments have coordinated laboratory and field investigations to upgrade the systems that help sustain the health of human populations, enhance the value of agricultural resources, and preserve the ecological landscape more broadly. They have collaborated in addressing diseases that can cross international borders—for example, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), polio, Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), and avian influenza. The joint efforts of individual scientists in preserving important plant, animal, and insect populations, including unique species found throughout the vast territories of Russia, Alaska, and the southwestern United States, are well known within the international biological community.
Following the splintering of the Soviet Union into 15 independent states in 1991, officials in Washington, Brussels, and other capitals initiated a series of bilateral and multilateral programs to help contain the loss or misdirection of Russian scientific expertise. Of particular concern was the possibility that underemployed and poorly paid scientists who had worked in the Russian defense sector might accept financial support from nefarious sources that would pay generously for access to technological expertise that could be used for destructive purposes. Initially, international attention concentrated on the possibility of nuclear scientists going astray; but Russian scientists with biological skills were quickly included in fast-growing cooperative programs to prevent misdirection of advanced technology capabilities. Soon many Russian chemical and aerospace scientists also became involved in international programs to redirect careers to civilian activities of scientists with defense-related experience.
At the same time, there were outcries from U.S. colleagues of prominent Russian scientists, along with loud voices of concern in Europe, that it was essential to save critical components of Russian science, and particularly civilian-oriented basic research capabilities of international interest that had been developed during the Soviet era. The U.S. government responded to the calls from the Russian and U.S. scientific communities for international support by establishing cooperative programs that soon encompassed many aspects of the life sciences, along with programs in other fields. As was to be expected at the time of economic chaos in Russia, the activities initially took on donor-beneficiary characteristics of foreign assistance programs.
Since the mid-1990s, bioengagement has involved many thousands of Russian and hundreds of American scientists, engineers, doctors, industrialists, technicians, and other specialists with important skills. Most participants have been
associated with government agencies, research centers, educational institutions, private firms, and nongovernmental organizations in the two countries. Also, a significant number of participants from both countries have been self-motivated entrepreneurs.
As noted above, the two governments initially gave special priority to redirection of Russian research teams with defense backgrounds to civilian careers. An estimated 7,000 Russian specialists with biodefense-relevant expertise and/or experience participated in redirection programs. Most team members remained in their original places of employment, with new job assignments. These programs, together with joint activities based on common scientific interests involving laboratories that had not been entwined with defense activities, contributed to important advances in a number of areas of the life sciences. However, the number and scope of bioengagement programs initiated in response to security concerns have been on the decline during the past several years along with an overall decline in U.S.-Russian cooperation.
Joint efforts, whether motivated by security or other concerns, have often emphasized applications of research findings that can advance social and economic agendas of government departments and private-sector organizations. Collaboration has frequently been oriented toward providing products, technical information, or services of importance to the governments, with commercialization of the products of research in the private-sector marketplace also an objective at times. In addition, bilateral cooperation has addressed the scientific aspects of a variety of global and regional issues of broad interest to the international community, from strengthening global networks for detecting outbreaks of contagious diseases, to husbanding fishery stocks in ocean waters of common interest, to preservation of biodiversity in mountainous areas, to understanding the biological dimensions of climate change.
During the 1990s and into the early 2000s, U.S. government organizations covered most of the direct costs of bioengagement programs, often providing salary support for Russian participants in cooperative undertakings. As to indirect costs—such as providing facilities, utilities and engineering services, retirement and health benefits for employees, and management services, the Russian institutions where projects have been sited carried most of the financial burden.
The most active U.S. government organizations in promoting bioengagement in recent years have included the Department of State (Appendix C.1), Defense Threat Reducation Agency (Appendix C.2), Department of Energy (Appendix C.3), Department of Health and Human Services (Appendix C.4), National Institutes of Health (Appendix C.5), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Appendix C.6), and U.S. Agency for International Development (Appendix C.8). The Agricultural Research Service of the Department of Agriculture (Appendix C.10) and the Environmental Protection Agency (Appendix C.9) have also sponsored many joint activities with Russian counterparts. To a lesser extent, the National Science Foundation (Appendix C.7), National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Appendix C.11), and Food and Drug Administration have supported collaborative activities involving Russian institutions.
Many Russian institutions have participated in biosecurity- and biosafety-oriented cooperative programs supported financially by the United States. Bio-security is herein defined as “A complex of measures that include biosafety, while providing for physical safekeeping of biomaterials and preventing inappropriate use of biomaterials.” Biosafety is defined as: “Prevention of exposure to harmful biological agents and measures taken to this end.”
The jointly implemented programs have usually depended on substantial in-kind contributions from the collaborating Russian institutes, universities, and enterprises. Until recently, special funding from ministries or other organizations to initiate such activities had seldom been available. Of course, when a project terminates, the appropriate ministry, academy, or institution itself must assume responsibility for continuation of the activities, as appropriate.
As to the programs that have not been directly linked to biosecurity concerns, a number of Russian ministries, academies, and special funds have provided support for joint activities (e.g., the Ministry of Health and Social Development, Ministry of Natural Resources, Ministry of Education and Science, and Ministry of Agriculture; three Russian academies; the Russian Foundation for Basic Research; and the Foundation for Support of Small Business in the Science and Technology Sphere—the Bortnik Fund). While they seldom have had major funding earmarked for such activities, they have often been able to allocate a limited amount of support for specific projects. At times, the international departments of ministries and academies have had flexibility in their financial resources to provide support on a case-by-case basis; but usually the interested institutes have been obliged to find the needed resources within their regular budget allotments. Seldom does the Ministry of Finance allocate funds for specific bioengagement activities. (For example, see Appendix D.4 for a discussion of the activities of many institutes of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences that have obtained funding for bioengagement.)
Russian officials and specialists have repeatedly emphasized the importance of orienting joint projects toward resolving day-to-day health, agriculture, and environmental concerns of the Russian government and the Russian population. However, a key U.S. concern in proposing bioengagement activities during the 1990s and early 2000s was the potential misuse of dangerous pathogens. At times, this mismatch of priorities of the funding entities in the two countries has caused complications in launching projects, but usually compromises have been reached.
Russian investigators have directed much of their attention to coordinated research approaches—with most of the research activities sited in Russia—that effectively use their experience and their laboratory capabilities in ways that will continue after conclusion of U.S. participation and support. U.S. counterparts have also been concerned about long-term maintenance of enhanced capabilities
of Russian institutions. However, their overriding priority has usually been to complete cooperative projects that are undertaken and only then become concerned about continuation of the collaboration efforts.
In 2009, the presidents of Russia and the United States established the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission (BPC) as an important component of their commitment to reset the U.S.-Russia political relationship. (See Appendix E.1.) A number of BPC working groups have considered different aspects of bioengagement. While the commission focuses primarily on government-to-government programs, it recognizes that less formal institution-to-institution and scientist-to-scientist relationships within both the public and the private sectors are also important.
However, in 2012 the Russian government informed the United States that the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program administered by the U.S. Department of Defense (often referred to as the Nunn-Lugar Program) would not be extended in Russia beyond 2013. Also, the Russian government advised the U.S. Agency for International Development that it should close its offices in Moscow. One year earlier the Russian government had announced that in 2015 it would withdraw from the agreement and the associated protocol that established the International Science and Technology Center (ISTC) when all projects in Russia will have been completed. For almost two decades these three programs have provided hundreds of millions of dollars for bioengagement activities. Indeed, they have been important pillars of bioengagement for many years. As a result of the Russian actions, future cooperation in the life sciences will differ significantly from past activities.
NEW PRIORITIES IN INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION
For the past several years, Russia has been reorganizing its science, education, and innovation systems against a background of economic uncertainty. A consensus seems to have emerged within the Russian government that modernization of Russia depends in large measure on engagement with the international community. Despite the major changes in the intergovernmental bilateral relationship noted above, the United States remains high on the government’s list of countries with relevant experiences and successes.
An important Russian government goal is for many universities and scientific institutions of the nation to gain recognition as equal to counterparts in other industrialized countries. At present, few Russian universities are on the short lists of leading educational institutions of the world. Thus, at times they have difficulties attracting attention of the world’s top scientists, whatever the Russian achievements.
It has not been easy for the government or the population of Russia to change systems that have been in place in Russia for decades. Vested interests and well-developed procedures to control international relationships have often been bar-
riers to new approaches. To help improve an integrated scientific infrastructure that links with the international scientific community, the Russian government has promoted the following approaches during the past several years.
• Designation of 29 elite universities as “research universities,” with special funding, to advance integration of research and education while expanding international outreach to leading scientists throughout the world. A few of these universities have well-established strengths in the biological sciences.
• Provision of “megagrants” (equivalent to $5 million for each grant) to 79 Russian university departments selected on a competitive basis to attract world leaders of science to work at least 4 months annually in Russia for 3 years, where they are to establish and lead laboratory teams. Several American biologists were included in the teams to be supported by the initial 79 awards, with more awards scheduled.
• Support for small Russian technology-oriented businesses to work with universities in promoting technology transfer, with special advisory services provided at times by American and other international specialists.
• Establishment of a new high-technology flagship university near Moscow, named Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology, which is to incorporate experiences of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology within its graduate education and research programs, with affiliated research centers located throughout the country, and indeed around the world. (See Appendix E.4.)
• Financial support of the Skolkovo Foundation and Rusnano in Moscow that are explicitly targeted on linking Russian scientific capabilities with commercial interests in the biomedical field and in the following four other priority fields: nuclear, space, energy, and information technologies. (See Appendixes E.3 and E.5.)
• Establishment of government-supported venture capital funds, with investments in biotech companies on the priority list.
• Federal requirements for state-owned strategic industrial companies to devote a significant percentage of sales to support research and development, including support of technology development activities at Skolkovo where, as noted above, biomedicine is one of the priority fields of interest.
• Designation of and financial support for the Kurchatov Institute of Atomic Energy as the nation’s first independent national research center, with the institute expanding its capabilities in nanobiology research.
U.S. government financial capabilities for supporting bioengagement have been decreasing as collaborative programs are completed and resources are diverted to other deserving programs. Russia’s capabilities to finance cooperative activities are steadily increasing. But still, the Russian financial contributions to cover direct expenses of current cooperation in the biological sciences lag behind U.S. contributions.
As to industrial interests, investments in Russia by U.S. pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies have remained at a low level, due in large measure to questions as to the business climate in Russia. Few Russian companies are currently in financial or technical positions to risk investments in international cooperation as an important component of their business strategies. Russian government venture-capital investments in biomedical activities in the United States that are then linked back to activities in Russia are in their formative stages and reflect a lack of confidence in the capabilities of Russian companies to move forward on their own. Many biology-oriented companies in both countries maintain a watch-and-wait policy before investing in manufacturing activities across the ocean, while progress toward a well-functioning market economy in Russia moves forward only slowly.
SCOPE OF THE STUDY
The committee focused primarily on bilateral activities involving important government and nongovernment institutions in the two countries. The committee recognized the significance of multilateral activities, and particularly programs of international organizations such as the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization; United Nations Environment Program; World Health Organization; World Organization for Animal Health; and Food and Agriculture Organization. But assessments of the many multilateral activities that have been carried out would have greatly expanded the scope of the study and therefore were not undertaken, with one exception.
The report does address U.S.-Russian biology-oriented activities that have been financed in large measure by the United States and facilitated by the ISTC, which has its headquarters in Moscow. (See Appendix E.2.) This international organization has played a unique role in supporting cooperation linked to proliferation concerns that has engaged Russian and American scientists, as well as assisting with activities involving other countries from Europe and Asia and from other states that emerged from the former Soviet Union.
However, the Russian government has taken the position that the era of redirection of underemployed defense scientists to civilian tasks, which has been the principal role of the ISTC, has been completed. Therefore, the government considers that there is no longer a need in Russia for the ISTC. But the committee responsible for this report believes that the accumulated experience of the ISTC deserves careful attention, within Russia and globally.
Bilateral cooperation in space exploration has long had unique political support within the governments and among the general populations of Russia and the United States. The direct and indirect costs of the large manned spaceflight programs have been shared by the two countries. This report briefly mentions a few bilateral research projects in space biology that are of special interest to the international scientific community. However, a review of the overall effort in the
life sciences to ensure the well-being of astronauts and cosmonauts in space is beyond the scope of this effort.
Finally, a comprehensive assessment of bilateral cooperation in many other aspects of the life sciences over 15 years is not possible because of the large volume of activities. The committee addressed limited but important portions of many relevant bilateral programs—including both past and current programs. In selecting activities for consideration, the committee gave special attention to bilateral efforts that (a) have received high levels of financial support from the two governments and from the private sector; (b) have resulted in significant impacts of security, scientific, and economic importance; (c) have encountered substantial problems and provide lessons learned for future programs; (d) hold considerable promise of important achievements of mutual interest through effective integration of U.S. and Russian scientific capabilities in the decade ahead; and/or (e) represent a broad spectrum of various types of programs that have been carried out.
The committee gave priority to looking to the future. Many of its judgments have been based on past experiences that retain their relevance for successful engagement, and particularly engagement that continues for many years. Other comments as to future challenges reflect the dynamic developments in the biological sciences and biotechnology throughout the world.
LEVEL OF INVESTMENT IN BILATERAL COOPERATION IN THE LIFE SCIENCES
Over 15 years, investments of the two governments and, to a lesser extent, private-sector companies and institutions in the two countries in bilateral cooperation have been extensive. The committee estimates that at the peak of the cooperative activities during the beginning of the 2000s, the total expenditures by the two countries—covering both direct and indirect costs of bioengagement— exceeded the equivalent of $150 million per year. By 2011, this investment had decreased to about $25 million per year. The total expenditures since 1997 were considerably more than $1 billion. Some fragmentary data concerning expenditures is included in the appendixes to this report. These data have been helpful in estimating some costs.
A more accurate accounting of the levels of expenditures has not been possible for the following reasons.
1. Few, if any, government agencies in either country have readily available records of expenditures for bioengagement—even expenditures to cover direct costs—going back 15 years. Many have difficulty assembling authoritative data for 2011. For example, the National Institutes of Health grants program is one of the best documented activities. However, available data do not include all of
the matching contributions by Russian institutions or costs of administering the grants program.
2. Few agencies break out budgets for the life sciences. Indeed, the breadth of the life sciences is often underestimated, given the increasing convergence of chemistry, physics, mathematics, and material sciences with biology.
3. Agencies sometimes have budgets for international activities but do not break out biology-related aspects of international activities, nor do they separate proposed budgets for U.S.-Russian engagement as distinct from activities involving other countries as well.
4. When accounting for costs of international programs, agencies seldom include the costs incurred by government employees who oversee specific international programs on a full-time or part-time basis.
5. Many projects rely to a considerable extent on matching contributions by host institutions, and these costs are simply absorbed by the host institutions as overhead. (See, for example, Box I-1.) In some cases, the financial contributions of host institutions have exceeded external grants directed to the same projects by a factor of 10.
6. U.S. contracts and grants awarded to Russian institutions or individuals do not include indirect costs as discussed above.
7. Excellent statistics are maintained by the ISTC, but even they do not include matching costs by Russian institutions, indirect costs, or the funds provided to the U.S. collaborators for their participation.
Costs of Collaboration Absorbed by
Russian State Research Center Vector
Because of the need to fulfill international grant commitments, Vector, for example, (a) tripled its energy and water consumption at its own expense for a few years, (b) spent additional funds on materials and reagents, (c) purchased personal protection equipment, (d) redirected internal funds to support engineering personnel, and (e) provided funding for joint publications after grant funding had been expended.
SOURCE: Former Scientific Leader of Vector, June 2012.
STRUCTURE OF THE REPORT
Four dimensions of bioengagement that provide the framework for the report are (1) enhancement of security, (2) advancement of science, (3) applications of scientific findings, and (4) contributions of science in addressing problems of
global and regional interest. The objectives of engagement in these four overlapping areas include the following:
1. Improve security by helping to (a) reduce the risk of proliferation of potentially dangerous biological agents and expertise in the two countries to irresponsible governments or to groups with hostile intentions and (b) prevent bioterrorism, at home and in other countries strengthening response capabilities should bioterrorism attacks occur.
2. Increase U.S. and Russian contributions to the advancement of science, and particularly to improvement of the knowledge base for understanding fundamental scientific issues.
3. Develop programs that apply existing scientific capabilities to address public health, agricultural, and environmental issues, including (a) utilization of the results of research and (b) contributions in responding to the needs of the general populations for better and cheaper products, technical information, and specialized services that are developed or provided by governments.
4. Contribute to resolving global and regional issues, wherein understanding the biological dimensions is critical in developing appropriate approaches by the two countries and the international scientific community more broadly.
The report begins with a discussion of the importance of bioengagement. After considering examples of activities related to each of the four objectives set forth above, the report addresses positive impacts and shortcomings of activities. It then considers impediments to cooperation and lessons learned during bilateral cooperation in recent years. An important chapter is devoted to the strategic, financial, and organizational aspects of bioengagement, with special attention devoted to sustaining existing programs that have high payoffs while developing a new approach to deepening involvement of the best scientists in the two countries in collaborative efforts. The report concludes with a presentation of three major recommendations of the committee that reflect the importance of bioengagement in general, and strengthened international networks of researchers in particular, in the years ahead.
A number of appendixes are included in the report. They discuss the interests and activities of U.S. and Russian sponsors of bioengagement, the types of cooperation supported by a number of Russian institutions, and examples of bioengagement programs that have been successful. They underscore the broad reach of bioengagement and help set the stage for consideration of future activities.
CONSULTATIONS AND RELATED REPORTS
In preparing this report, committee members and staff carried out consultations with many dozens of organizations and individuals in Russia and the United States concerning their experiences in designing and implementing past bilateral
programs. Of comparable importance were their visions of future approaches and of methods for improving program implementation. These organizations and individuals have been particularly helpful in providing details that are included in the events highlighted throughout the report. A few specialists from other countries were also consulted. Appendix A.3 identifies some of the key organizations that provided information to the committee during preparation of this report.
During the late 1990s and the 2000s, the National Academies prepared a number of reports on U.S.-Russian scientific relations in general, and cooperation in the life sciences in particular. These reports are identified in Appendix A.2. Many other relevant observations are included in books of well-qualified observers, compendiums of activities prepared by other organizations, international journals, and news outlets. A few of these sources that were of particular help in preparing this report are also identified in Appendix A.2. Unfortunately, there have been very few authoritative publications prepared jointly by U.S. and Russian organizations or authors, which have focused explicitly on U.S.-Russian bilateral engagement, and particularly on the future of this relationship in the biological sciences. This report should assist in filling that gap.
That said, the most important source of information for the report has been the observations of the committee members themselves, who have personally observed development and implementation of many aspects of bioengagement during recent years.
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