Invest in technology to prevent a future pandemic, Kromek urges UK Government

County Durham company Kromek has urged the Government to invest in technology to prevent a future pandemic.

The AIM-listed company, based in Sedgefield, develops radiation detection and bio-detection technology solutions for the medical, security screening and nuclear sectors, with a second base in the US.

As part of its aims to enhance the quality of life through detection technology, screening technology in hospitals and airports, as well as handheld ‘dirty bomb’ detectors to the US defence department. During the pandemic it trialled new products, including a system to detect Covid-19 in the air, which was tested at Teesside International Airport as well as a North East school.

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Now the company has published a document – Future biological threats and mitigation – authored by CEO Dr Arnab Basu and chemical and biological weapons expert Colonel Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, which calls on Government decisionmakers to treat the Covid-19 pandemic as a wake-up call, rather than a one-off event.

It suggests that emerging bio-skills among rogue states and terror groups could lead to modified viruses becoming a feature of future warfare, alongside the continued risk of existing animal pathogens mutating, leading to human-to-human transmission.

Dr Basu said: “The international community must be alive to the very real threat that Covid-19 isn’t a one off. There is every chance of another naturally occurring pathogen, alongside the likelihood that biological warfare, in the form of genetically modified viruses, could be used in the near future. The impact on human life and the global economy of this pandemic must act as a call to action.”

The report, which has been sent to national and local decisionmakers, makes a number of recommendations, including that global and national governance and regulations need to be reviewed, along with calls to revamp the 1975 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, the disarmament treaty banning biological weapons.

Funded by the US and UK government agencies, Kromek has spent three years developing the technology that would enable building a national or global early warning system to mitigate against the emergence of a new airborne disease.

The benchtop-sized machine filters the air and captures all biological particles which are DNA-sequenced in situ to monitor both their emergence and prevalence.

Used in urban centres, high footfall areas and sensitive locations such as airports or hospitals, the machine allows early detection of localised outbreaks, which can be identified and contained.

The systems are designed to be networked in large numbers, to provide a near real time map pathogens enabling an early warning system for emerging biological threats.

In his foreword to the paper, former Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon said: “We need to upgrade our biological protection from backward-looking ‘test and trace’ systems to real-time autonomous DNA sequencing that can give our national and local agencies actionable intelligence to head off the next pandemic before it gets rooted.

“The technology is already here, developed by cutting-edge bio security companies such as Kromek. Deploying it at our airports and ports and in our urban centres would better protect us against the next pandemic.”

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Coreena FordChronicle and Journal business writer