FORT COLLINS, COLORADO – Facilities that manufacture biologic drugs like vaccines are a critical part of the nation's biodefense infrastructure. Possible breaches of data systems controlling these biomanufacturing supply chains call for an assessment of their vulnerability to cyberattacks.
Colorado State University's Jean Peccoud, professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering and the Abell Endowed Chair in Synthetic Biology, is part of a multi-institutional team newly commissioned to analyze the security of the nation's biomanufacturing infrastructure. Peccoud brings an extensive research background to the team, as well as experience training government agencies in analyzing the vulnerabilities of biotechnology supply chains.
The U.S. Department of Defense has awarded a contract to the National Strategic Research Institute (NSRI) at the University of Nebraska to lead the research project in cyberbiosecurity, engaging a team of scientists that includes Peccoud, along with researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Virginia Tech and U.S. Strategic Command. Their aim is to provide specific recommendations to the Department of Defense for strengthening biomanufacturing infrastructure.
The NSRI is one of 13 University Affiliated Research Centers across the nation, charged with delivering research solutions for the Department of Defense in areas affecting national security.
The Biological Process Development Facility at University of Nebraska-Lincoln will serve as the proof-of-concept centerpiece facility for the project. Peccoud, an expert in bioinformatics, will work with the facility to analyze best practices and perform a security risk assessment.
"If every computer system is theoretically vulnerable to cyberattacks, how might these vulnerabilities impact the safety, delays, and production of biomanufacturing processes?" Peccoud said. "We need to ensure the integrity of the flow of physical material and the flow of data associated with biomanufacturing processes."
"Our project will set the foundations of cyberbiosecurity as a new specialty at the interface between biosecurity and cybersecurity," said project principal investigator Randall Murch, associate director for research program development at Virginia Tech.
Wally Buchholz, director of the University of Nebraska's bioprocessing facility, says: "This project will identify all critical information that is essential to a bioproduction facility's successful operation and outcome. The results will help us to understand the tolerances and vulnerabilities that can be exploited for various nefarious purposes and the specific methods that could be used."
CSU is also an integral part of the national biodefense system. BioMARC, the university's high-containment biomanufacturing unit develops, manufactures and tests vaccines for the Department of Defense and other government agencies.