This chapter provides an overview of important returns on the investments by the two countries in bioengagement. The investments have involved many research and development institutions and associated facilities where scientists from the two countries have worked together. As we have seen in previous chapters, a variety of applications of existing knowledge and technologies have helped responses to social and economic needs as well as improving understanding of the underlying science. These achievements have been taking place as the security, political, and economic architectures of the world have been undergoing dramatic changes.
U.S.-Russian bioengagement in recent years has been unique among bilateral and multilateral relationships in the life sciences throughout the world. The breadth of bilateral objectives, the variety of field and laboratory endeavors spread over vast land and aquatic areas, and the diversity of well-honed skills of participating scientists in bioengagement have been unrivaled. The transition from an era of hostility and isolation to an era of political rapprochement and scientific cooperation has no historical precedents, with bioengagement near the center of this transition.
For decades biology-related issues were a significant, and at times a highly contentious, component of adversarial U.S.-Soviet confrontations concerning appropriate directions of scientific expertise and facilities. Suspicions were rampant, fueled by allegations of concealed activities at biological research centers in both countries. Overall, collaborative endeavors were limited in scope and number.
But beginning in the mid-1990s, biological challenges have become a nexus for mobilizing U.S. and Russian capabilities based on common interests in
enhancement of health, agriculture, and environmental conditions while reducing security apprehensions. This transition to openness and cooperation, while still incomplete, and the associated development of long-term professional and personal relationships across borders have been quite remarkable.
In recent years, the two countries have been on parallel paths to develop their capabilities in the biological sciences and biotechnology. They are giving special attention to enhancing research capabilities of universities and other scientific centers and expanding industrial efforts to provide new biotechnology products and services. At the same time, they are encouraging entrepreneurial endeavors of young and energetic entrants into the field of biology, who increasingly populate the research institutions of the two countries.
Of course, the paths of the two countries aimed at successful development and use of biological assets are far from identical. The different starting points vividly stand out when comparing the (a) international rankings of university laboratories and (b) different experiences in commercialization of biotechnology products. In both areas, U.S. biological accomplishments are much higher on the scales of achievements. But still, the paths of the two countries often cross as the governments and nongovernmental institutions support different types of engagement, ranging from large intergovernmental projects of broad political as well as scientific interest to people-to-people contacts based on common professional experiences of individual specialists.
In recent efforts to catch up with other industrialized countries, Russia has been slowly increasing support for basic research in the life sciences, particularly in the universities where they have lagged far behind. At the same time, the government is investing relatively large sums of money in applied activities as discussed in Appendixes E.3, E.5, and F.3. These trends should enhance opportunities for mutually beneficial U.S.-Russian interactions.
OUTCOMES OF COLLABORATION
In the area of national security, U.S. financial support during the 1990s and early 2000s of Russian endeavors to enhance biosecurity and biosafety approaches and capabilities substantially reduced the risks associated with possible misuse by malcontents of the biological assets of Russia. As an important component of this effort, the United States joined with Russia in supporting redirection of thousands of underemployed Russian scientists in the defense sector to jobs in the civilian sector that provided pay supplements during economic downturns in the country. The joint activities have also upgraded the equipment bases and related infrastructure weaknesses of Russian research institutions, which then have hosted redirection activities. And at times, the programs have responded in a modest way to the Russian government’s near-term priorities for development of saleable products and services, which in turn help with self-financing of research activities.
Scientific advances that can be attributed at least in part to cooperation are still unfolding. But some progress seems clear, as exemplified by the results of completed projects and related activities set forth in previous chapters and in the appendixes. Of most importance, new international networks among scientists have been established and are being maintained, thereby enhancing coordination of related research endeavors. International travel of scientists to conferences in the two countries has become more frequent. A number of Russian-authored and coauthored international journal articles can be attributed in part to bilateral scientific engagement; indeed, publications should be an important outcome of some types of collaboration. (See Appendix F.1 for the state of joint publications that reflects the need for Russia to give more emphasis to publication of research results.) And at the core of the important results of bioengagement are (a) hundreds of scientists in the two countries who know colleagues across the ocean and remember their positive experiences in working with them in cooperative projects, and (b) the legacy of highly productive institutional cooperation, such as the partnerships that developed between the institutions affiliated with the Agricultural Research Service of the United States and a number of agricultural research centers in Russia.
An important aspect of international exchanges has been opportunities for scientists of one country to become acquainted with research techniques and accomplishments of colleagues in the other country. Onsite interactions have improved appreciation of the significance of articles that have been published by colleagues in national and international journals and of the potential of experiments described in unpublished documents. Such first-hand insights are of particular importance in looking to the future when biological breakthroughs may depend on adjustments in investigative techniques, particularly adjustments that are in their preliminary stages of exploration by international colleagues.
With regard to applications of scientific capabilities in the private sector, many commercialization efforts in Russia have been disappointing. This is not surprising, given the difficulties in the United States and other countries with well-developed market economies in transforming research results into saleable products. However, cooperative efforts to encourage the development of products and services that will attract customers have been important in the education of potential high-technology entrepreneurs in Russia. Research management within a market economy has not been a familiar topic within Russia, and collaborations have often been important introductions to the necessary adjustments of previous management styles.
U.S. counterparts have benefited from the technical contributions of Russian researchers to joint efforts. But if near-term sales of new products are used as the only metric for assessing the payoff from applied research activities, collaborative programs have fallen short. However, in the long run, it is often the educational process for entrepreneurs that will lead to the most important yet-to-be measured
outcomes; and the results of this educational process are being increasingly reflected in the activities of some research institutions in Russia.
Finally, with regard to regional and global impacts of joint efforts, neither country has been hesitant in encouraging appropriate dissemination of the results of joint projects to other countries. Perhaps the most dramatic example has been the global diffusion of space biology, which was developed through parallel and joint efforts of the USSR-Russia and the United States, as discussed in Chapter 5. Also, the two countries have participated in investigations of remote polar and desert areas, leading to discoveries that help predict future environmental conditions around the globe.
Highly visible U.S.-Russian efforts in the biological sciences, particularly those championed by the International Science and Technology Center, have attracted attention of important international organizations, including the Global Partnership initiated by the G-8 countries. These countries have welcomed approaches pioneered by the United States and Russia in the biological sciences as having worldwide implications. They have encouraged the two countries to continue their efforts, particularly in promoting responsible use of technologies that could be diverted for inappropriate purposes.
Measuring, or even cataloging, many of the results of joint efforts is not possible. Some new developments will become clear, only in future years. And the economic and social benefits from scientific discoveries may not be realized for decades. (See Appendix C.2 for one example of indicators of success that have been used in assessing the near-term results of cooperative biosecurity programs in Russia.)
ELABORATION OF SELECTED OUTCOMES
Against this background, eight types of outcomes are discussed below.
1. Enhanced access by foreign scientists to previously closed or isolated institutions in the two countries. Many participating institutions and scientists in bilateral programs have been relative newcomers to U.S.–Soviet-Russian cooperation. They were previously constrained from reaching out by security concerns, by lack of financial resources, or by lack of appropriate information about institutions of potential interest.
With official encouragement to engage foreign colleagues whom were known only through their publications or, in many cases, were not known at all, hundreds of scientists in the two countries have had opportunities to assess first-hand the capabilities of counterparts, and thereby better appreciate the importance of their work. Most of the visits have taken American specialists to Russia, although reciprocal visits have been frequent. At the same time, scientists from abroad often have been reassured through personal observations in the partner country that previous concerns about potentially dangerous activities in foreign laborato-
ries were no longer real concerns, even if they had in earlier times been identified as questionable undertakings. Through scientist-to-scientist engagement, understanding and trust have often replaced suspicion and apprehension with transparency being an essential component of personal contacts.
A good example of opportunities in this area is the recent interest on both sides in establishing long-term contacts between specialists of the U.S. Agricultural Research Service and their colleagues at the agricultural research center in Pokrov in Russia. The current dialogue followed several years of discussions about mutual interests. Unfortunately, during the long delay, the economic condition at Pokrov has deteriorated; but new collaborative projects could assist in revitalizing important scientific capabilities.
2. The transformation of a foreign assistance relationship between the United States and Russia to a series of mutually beneficial partnerships. Too often in the 1990s, the United States provided simply research funds for joint projects while Russia provided most of the scientific brainpower. This form of cooperation resulted at times in very useful research findings but greatly distorted the traditions of science. Reliance on a donor-recipient relationship was destined to have a short lifetime.
First in the nuclear area, and then in the biological sector, the Russian government gradually assumed responsibility for financing a greater share of joint research and related activities. This transition is still in its early stages. But as the funding responsibility began to change, the attitudes of the participants also changed in a positive direction. The biologists have played an important role in the effort to transform scientific “assistance” to more lasting partnership arrangements, with the potential to continue in the future.
3. Facilitation of the recovery of decimated Russian research groups to financially viable research teams, which effectively complemented U.S. and other international research capabilities. The financial plight of many Russian biological research centers during the 1990s was desperate. Staff departures were commonplace, and the entry of young biologists into the labor force was minimal. Support programs that were quickly developed by the U.S. government and by private foundations in the United States provided critical lifelines. This effort enabled many highly talented researchers to remain in place until increased financial support of science by the Russian government began to preserve premier scientific establishments and replenish the cadres of promising young scientists.
4. Strengthening capabilities in both countries to prevent, detect, diagnose, and control outbreaks of dangerous infectious diseases. For several years beginning in the late 1990s, an important emphasis of joint programs was research on a few diseases that had been previously given special importance in defense programs—for example, anthrax. The scientific achievements in improving
understanding as to how to deal with such pathogens through collaborative research efforts were important. In time, the list of potent pathogens of mutual concern that were considered in cooperative endeavors expanded significantly. Russian and American investigators earned recognition as leaders in addressing dangerous pathogens, including pathogens that had little relevance to defense applications. Their findings encouraged the strengthening of global capabilities to deal with the threats posed by a large number of dangerous pathogens, including naturally occurring pathogens of day-to-day concern of health officials.
Most health officials, at least in Russia, consider preventing deliberate misuse of biological assets to be a less urgent task than servicing day-to-day public health needs of the general population. At times, the lists of pathogens of priority concern to the U.S. government focused only on pathogens that had been categorized as “especially dangerous” by the Department of Defense. But within a few years, there was common recognition that health systems must focus on a range of pathogens, including pathogens far from defense concerns, if many countries were to be interested in upgrading their surveillance systems.
5. Demonstrations of cost-effective approaches to improving biosafety and biosecurity on a national scale. In the 1990s, joint U.S.-Russian efforts to ensure that biological assets would be used responsibly attracted considerable international attention. With these bilateral efforts leading the way, soon other countries had joined in international programs to upgrade their biosafety and biosecurity requirements and processes for conducting biological research. In particular, a number of countries that were part of the former Soviet Union are using the approaches refined through U.S.-Russian programs as models to be emulated.
6. Demonstration of feasible approaches to bringing the products of biotechnology to market in an economy undergoing dramatic reconfiguration. The United States has sought greater attention by the Russian government to the development of small and medium firms, which can transform the results of research into marketable products. While the payoffs from joint efforts to commercialize the products of research carried out in Russia have been limited to date, the two countries are now well attuned to the realities of commercialization of technology and the important roles that both small spin-off firms and joint ventures can play in this regard.
There have been limited Russian success stories in establishing small biotech firms, which have helped illuminate the best paths to financial returns from innovations in the field of biotechnology. Of special interest is the marketing of products that were developed for Russian consumers as a first step toward entering international markets. See Appendix C.3 for a number of examples of modest commercial successes.
7. Increased national, bilateral, and multilateral cooperation focused on
research activities at selected Russian universities. Immediately following the breakup of the USSR, Russian academics and scientists began a clamor for greater attention to strengthening research capabilities at Russian universities. However, financial resources were not available. With considerable support from the U.S. university community and limited financial support from U.S. foundations, a few model programs were launched to expand research at Russian universities. Also, following another U.S. model, medical faculties with both educational and research agendas were established at several leading Russian universities. Building on this experience and other activities financed by the Russian Ministry of Education and Science, the Russian government has designated 29 universities as “research universities” and has supported a variety of international research partnerships involving these universities—some on a bilateral basis with the United States and others on a broader international basis. These universities in Russia seem destined to become a significant dimension of the overall international outreach effort in the life sciences, as well as in other fields.
8. Increased international interest in the importance of biodiversity and practical steps to catalog and preserve biodiversity. Both Russia and the United States are treasure troves of animal, insect, and plant species that have been of broad international interest. Programs to help preserve biodiversity, while recognized internationally as being important for all countries, have considerable difficulty attracting financial support beyond base budgets needed to keep scientific institutions active. With the economic crisis in Russia, special efforts were needed to raise the profile of these activities and to document the importance of past findings and future opportunities in this field. Joint work by institutions in the two countries played an important role in ensuring that collections of plants, seeds, and animals—unique in the world—were maintained even in the most difficult economic times.
In summary, the recent joint achievements of two former adversaries are many fold. Partner organizations have sponsored important research activities at sensitive facilities and remote field sites and also maintained long-standing cooperative activities in scientific areas distant from dual-use or other types of security concerns. The two countries have brought to the table both common and different assets and aspirations in the biological sciences that can continue to provide strong platforms for joint efforts. The lessons that they have learned during development and implementation of a wide variety of programs are of considerable value to other organizations interested in cooperative efforts in a variety of political settings. In short, the bilateral relationship has led to significant rewards for the global community in the past and can continue to set a rapid pace in advancing responsible biological science activities in the future.
Skeptical officials and scientific leaders of the two countries, who initially questioned the feasibility and acceptability of a broadly based engagement approach, have developed respect for skills of counterparts in dealing with sensitive technologies. In a brief period of time, responsible development, handling, and use of potentially dangerous technologies have become cornerstones of these efforts. Of particular importance, the increased transparency of programs in sensitive areas, directly related to broad access to facilities and specialists in the two countries, has set the stage for still more important cooperative ventures that could contribute to science and security interests throughout the world.
A good indicator of the immediate importance of bioengagement is the role that biological activities play within the framework of the Bilateral Presidential Commission established by the two governments in 2009. With six working groups addressing various aspects of the life sciences, the list of recent activities is long despite the limited budgets available to carry out such activities. (See Appendix E.1.) During the 8-year period from 2001 to 2009, when there was no Bilateral Presidential Commission but budgetary resources were more plentiful—at least on the U.S. side—the importance of such activities never wavered. In 2012, the situation is dramatically different with availability of funding a major constraint, and gradually bioengagement is falling off the screen of viable activities.
THE ROLE OF METRICS
Chapter 1 concludes that bioengagement is undervalued and notes that subsequent chapters document many of the successes to date. But good metrics for assessing success are lacking. Therefore, greater attention to developing and using metrics in designing and evaluating program results, with particular attention to long-term results and the characteristics of programs that contribute to continued viability of research teams, can be helpful in determining the importance of bioengagement activities.
In short, more deliberate efforts to build into future bioengagement programs methodologies for evaluating the results of these programs for scientific advancements, applications of science to economic development, and progress in achieving common security and foreign policy goals could (a) help focus implementation activities more sharply on key bioengagement objectives and (b) highlight the payoffs from even modest investments in bioengagement.
Efforts in Washington to develop metrics for assessments of bioengagement activities have given little attention to metrics that will indicate the extent to which projects lead to long-term success in building effective research teams. Rather, too often metrics have focused only on near-term security concerns. Important results of future cooperation help build capacities in the two countries, and indeed globally, in order to promote responsible science. Adoption of responsible approaches to research and applications should be a key factor in determining success of activities.