Biosafety & Biosecurity

In some aspects of our research, we need to work with biohazardous or potentially biohazardous materials. We have strict standards and procedures in place to manage the risk wherever these materials are handled.

Our biosafety1 risks are associated mainly with four different types of activities: those involving human or animal derived material such as blood and tissue samples where the risk is associated with infectious agents that may be present; our work with naturally occurring pathogens; with several toxins of biological origin; and with genetically modified micro-organisms, the vast majority of which pose negligible risk to human health.

There is an internationally recognised four-category hazard classification system for pathogens, where Category 4 represents the greatest hazard. The assigned hazard category is based on the severity of the disease caused, the way the disease is transmitted, and the availability of effective preventive and therapeutic measures (such as vaccines and antibiotics). In terms of risks to human health, we carry out no work involving Category 4 but we do work with tuberculosis (TB), a Category 3 pathogen, and Plasmodium falciparum, a protozoan parasite which causes malaria. We also use a number of Category 2 pathogens at some of our sites.

Backed by our Global Biosafety Standard, guidelines and operational procedures, we have programmes in place wherever biohazardous materials are handled, to manage the risk. Measures include staff training, control of exposure at source and where appropriate, provision of personal protective equipment and immunisation programmes.Specific legislation in the US and UK is designed to protect against the deliberate misuse of certain pathogens and biological toxins which have the potential to be used in terrorist activity. We work with a very small number of these and fully comply with the security measures required by the legislation. Our internal procedures requires appropriate security to be in place for all relevant materials wherever we work, whether or not there is a specific legal requirement.

1 “Biosafety” is used to describe the containment principles, technologies and practices that are implemented to prevent the unintentional exposure to biological agents and toxins, or their accidental release. “Biosecurity” is used to describe measures for access control and accountability for use of biological agents and toxins within laboratories, in order to prevent their loss, theft, misuse, diversion of, unauthorised access or intentional unauthorised release.

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