UK MOD biological defence research and development programme

1. Señale los objetivos y los recursos financieros de que dispone cada programa y resuma las principales actividades de investigación y desarrollo del programa. Se abordarán las siguientes esferas: profilaxis, estudios de patogenicidad y virulencia, técnicas de diagnóstico, aerobiología, detección, tratamiento, toxinología, protección, protección física, descontaminación y otras investigaciones.


The UK MOD biological defence research and development programme provides effective measures for the UK and its Armed Forces against the threat posed by biological weapons. The objectives of the programme reflect the UK National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review, which recognises and seeks to mitigate the risk of biological attacks against the UK or its forces, and the UK Biological Security Strategy, which aims to address the threat of infectious disease outbreaks whether naturally occurring, caused by an accidental release or as the result of a deliberate attack. To achieve these objectives, the programme creates bespoke capabilities based on innovative solutions to minimise the impact of CBRN threats to military and civilian operations. 


Hazard Assessment

CBR Hazard Assessment maintains the ability to provide an effective assessment of the current and developing CBR hazard and is thus the bedrock on which sound CBR defence is built. It requires the evaluation of the range of potential biological and toxin agents that might be utilised by a potential aggressor. The information generated helps define defence strategy, concepts and doctrine, as well as identifying the required performance of protective equipment. Therefore Hazard Assessment is an essential enabler to the CBR capability.

The studies undertaken necessarily involve activities such as consideration of the agents’ potency and dissemination characteristics, their aerobiology and the way in which they might be utilised by an aggressor in military and terrorist scenarios. This includes the potential impacts of genomics and proteomics. This work is essential to determine the challenge levels against which detectors, protective equipment and countermeasures must be effective. Current work includes studying the inhalation toxicity of a range of materials and the aerosol survival of pathogenic bacteria and viruses.


Detection and diagnostics

The ability to detect the presence or release of biological and toxin warfare (BTW) agents across the battlespace is crucial in providing timely warning to military personnel to allow them to adopt the appropriate protective posture and avoid casualties. Work programmes have focussed on technologies for improved sample collection, non-specific detection (to detect particulate material), generic detection (to distinguish between biological and non-biological materials) and specific identification (to identify the material). The objective is to develop point detection systems that are man portable and impose less logistic burden than current systems.

Technologies for the specific identification of BTW currently rely on the use of Biological Recognition Elements, such as antibodies and gene probes. The research programme has continued to develop specific antibodies - recombinant, monoclonal and polyclonal – to extend the range of potential BTW agents that can be identified. Testing is conducted in the laboratory by assessing the binding of the BTW agent to the generally immobilised antibody, monitored either through a linked colour change (e.g. Dipsticks) or electronically (biosensors).

Gene probe-based technology offers highly sensitive and specific assays for the identification of BTW agents like bacteria and viruses. Work is continuing in order to accelerate and simplify the methodology thus rendering it suitable for military use. Rapid PCR systems have been developed so that this technology can be used in field situations. In addition, similar technologies are also being investigated for use in medical diagnostic systems.

The research programme has continued to assess whether biological mass spectrometry technology could offer unambiguous detection and identification of BTW agents with a significant reduction in whole life costs.



The dissemination of BTW agents by an aggressor is likely to result in the production of particulate aerosols. Effective individual and collective protection (COLPRO) requires the prevention of the inhalation of this particulate challenge or its contact with the skin of personnel. Individual Protective Equipment (IPE) consists of a respirator and suit while collective protection systems provide isolation from a BW agent challenge in the form of whole buildings, rooms, ships or vehicles.

Current research focuses on providing IPE with effective levels of protection but with significantly reduced physiological loading compared with in-service equipment. This involves the development of new materials, integrating the materials into protective suit ensembles, and assessing the performance of the ensembles using non-pathogenic micro-organisms.

COLPRO research aims to design systems that provide the required levels of protection but pose a lower logistical burden on the user. This includes assessing the potential of Commercial off the Shelf (COTS) systems to meet the requirements of UK Armed Forces, including rapid strike, lightweight and low power requirements as well as incorporating protection into general purpose tentage.


Medical Countermeasures

The Medical Countermeasures (MedCM) programme seeks to determine the efficacy of vaccines, antibiotics, antivirals and antitoxins for the prevention of disease caused by BW agents.

The current suite of in-service MedCM offers a capability which does not protect against all BW agents. In some cases, no licensed MedCM are available and in others the in-service provision provides protection against lethality but not incapacitation. Opportunities for using COTS MedCM are extremely limited. Where no COTS solutions exist, and there is a realistic prospect of identifying feasible candidate MedCM, additional research has been performed to establish ‘proof-of-principle’ for potential interventions. Before COTS products or other medical interventions can be recommended, evidence base for their use in the treatment of personnel exposed to CBR agents has been assessed.

Programmes have continued to devise vaccines against tularemia (caused by Francisella tularensis) and melioidosis/glanders (caused by Burkholderia pseudomallei/mallei). A sub-unit vaccine approach is being employed for the development of vaccine candidates for Q-fever (caused by Coxiella burnetii). These vaccines will be tested using inhalation challenge models of disease.

Assessment of candidate anti-toxins against ricin, botulinum and SEB has continued, assessing efficacy, safety and acceptability. 

The programme to explore the development of broad-spectrum BW countermeasures has continued, including therapies against Brucella, VEEV and Filoviruses. It has three broad elements: to investigate the up-regulation of the innate immune system, for example through immunomodulator stimulation; to determine whether there are cross-protective antigens or common mechanisms of virulence shared by different BW agents; and, to identify broad spectrum antimicrobials. Antibiotics and anti-virals which are newly emerging from industry are being tested to investigate whether they are effective against a wide range of candidate BW agents.

Projects to identify how animal models of disease can be replaced with in vitro assays, cell or organ culture systems are continuing.


Hazard Management

The ability to decontaminate personnel, materiel and infrastructure once an aggressor has dispersed BTW agents is a key element to hazard management and restoring operational tempo. Research aims to develop low logistic burden approaches for decontamination of BTW agents based on liquid formulations, strippable coatings, and reactive gases. Validated test methodologies for determining the efficacy of these decontamination processes are also being developed in parallel.


Arms Control

Dstl staff at Porton Down provide technical advice on CBW non-proliferation to the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as well as to other Government Departments involved in formulating and implementing UK policy on non-proliferation matters. Since its formation in July 2016, such advice has been provided to the Counter Proliferation and Arms Control Centre (CPACC), which consolidates in a single location expertise and policy-making on international counter proliferation and arms control issues, drawing from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), Ministry of Defence (MOD), Department for International Trade (DIT) and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). Over the years, Dstl support has included working towards and participating in: the Review Conferences of the BTWC; the Ad Hoc Group of Governmental experts tasked with identifying and examining potential verification measures; the Special Conference of States Parties held in September 1994; the BTWC Ad Hoc Group; and the annual Meetings of Experts and of States Parties during the intersessional programmes of work following Review Conferences since 2002.

Dstl staff collate the data for the UK Confidence Building Measures returns and provide technical advice towards the formulation and execution of policy on export control legislation, covering items related to biological weapons proliferation in foreign countries.

Dstl staff also assist BEIS in its role as the UK National Authority for the Chemical Weapons Convention, providing technical support over declarations, licensing, and inspections. Dstl operates the UK’s Single Small Scale Facility at Porton Down, which has been declared under the CWC.

Dstl staff are also involved in supporting the UK International Biological Security Programme, part of the UK contribution to the Global Partnership, which seeks to promote safe, secure and responsible application of dual use biological science internationally.

3. ¿Algunas partes de estos programas se desarrollan por contrato con la industria, instituciones académicas o en otras instalaciones no relacionadas con la defensa?
4. En caso afirmativo, ¿qué porcentaje del volumen total de recursos financieros de cada programa se destina a esos contratos u otras instalaciones?

During the fiscal year April 1st 2020 to March 31st 2021, a total of 219 extramural contracts were placed.  Of these, 41 extramural contracts on research and development aspects relating to biological defence were in place with universities and other academic institutions, and 178 extramural contracts with other bodies, which are either government funded or industrial companies. Funding for these extramural contracts during the fiscal year totalled approximately £2.45 M. This represents 6% of the total MOD expenditure in the fiscal year on research and development on biological defence. The duration of individual contracts varies from a few months to three or four years, and in a few cases they include periods of work at Dstl. The precise institutions and companies are constantly varying as they are selected according to the needs of the defence programme and the availability of the necessary specialist skills.

5. Resuma los objetivos y las esferas de investigación de cada programa llevado a cabo por contratistas y en otras instalaciones con los fondos señalados en el párrafo 4.

Contracts are let on specific research topics in support of the main research programme carried out at Dstl.

6. Adjunte un organigrama de cada programa y sus vínculos en materia de presentación de informes (indique cada una de las instalaciones que participan en el programa).

See diagram:


  • The National Counter Proliferation Strategy to 2020 describes how the UK aims to prevent the spread or further development of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear capability or advanced military technology which could threaten UK interests or regional stability.
  • The Defence Counter-CBRN Policy defines Defence’s contribution to the cross-Government effort to counter CBRN threats to the UK, UK vital interests and the Armed Forces.
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7. Haga una declaración utilizando la parte 2 iii) del formulario A con respecto a cada instalación, gubernamental y no gubernamental, que dedique una parte sustancial de sus recursos a cada programa nacional de investigación y desarrollo para la defensa biológica dentro del territorio del Estado informante o en otros territorios bajo su jurisdicción o control.

The only UK facility which has a substantial proportion of its resources devoted to the national biological defence research and development programme is Dstl, Porton Down, for which a declaration is made on Form A` Part 2 (iii).

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