BioRISC: Improving the links between science and policy makers

Monday 13 September 2021


The following article was first published in this year's edition of The Wheel, the College's annual newsletter, in July 2021. 

Thanks to the generosity of the David and Claudia Harding Foundation, the team at the Biosecurity Research Initiative at St Catharine’s (BioRISC) has continued to grow its profile as a world-class research hub. Since its launch in 2019, BioRISC has generated over 30 peer-reviewed publications about existing and emerging biological security risks and interventions. An increasingly important area of activity has been developing tools to improve links between the scientific community and policy makers, so the former can provide the latter with cutting-edge, evidence-based information (see table).

The BioRISC team
The BioRISC team. Standing (left–right): Lord Des Browne (2019), Dr Phil Martin, Dr Mairi Kilkenny (2016), Professor William Sutherland (2008), Dr Gorm Shackelford, Emma Collingbine, Dr Hazem Kandil (2012). Seated: Dr Luke Kemp, Dr Catherine Rhodes, Dr David Aldridge (1997). Not pictured: Dr Sam Weiss Evans, Dr Belinda Gallardo, Dr Lauren Holt, Dr Seán Ó hÉigeartaigh and Dr Lalitha Sundaram

Lord Des Browne (2019), Fellow Commoner, adds, “None of us who have lived through the COVID-19 pandemic can be in any doubt about the value of policy makers having a proper understanding of the latest scientific evidence and how to apply this knowledge effectively.”

Professor William Sutherland (2008), Environment Fellow and Miriam Rothschild Professor of Conservation Biology, comments, “BioRISC has been ahead of the curve because our focus has been to improve the understanding of science and technology by public policy professionals and vice versa. We are finding ways to make science more useful to policy makers, with the best tools and information available.”

These tools encourage strategic thinking and aid quick and easy understanding of scientific evidence. Lord Browne explains, “We need accessible ways for policy makers to look at the available evidence, in real time rather than having to wait sometimes for months. Ideally, relevant evidence would be available quickly so policy makers can test their assumptions along the way and pursue the most sensible routes.”

Tools produced by BioRISC to support policy makers



Example activities

Horizon scanning

Identify future issues and opportunities

A bioengineering horizon scan1

Research prioritisation

Identify questions that, if answered, would be most useful to policy and practice

80 questions for UK biological security2

Solution scanning

Identify a range of options for a given problem

A solution scan on preventing future zoonotic epidemics3 generated significant media interest and over 6,000 downloads of the preprint in 8 weeks

A solution scan on reducing the spread of COVID-194 was reported by >70 media outlets and was used by the Irish government for post-lockdown planning

Fault tree analysis

Understand the impact of public policy decisions

A set of fault trees for each of the main areas of biosecurity

Examples of real-world case studies including freshwater invasive species

Dynamic synthesis

Make evidence immediately accessible and save users time when they want to extract evidence across fields on an industrial scale

A database covering a range of invasive species, which users can interrogate in as little as 20 minutes


1. Kemp, L. et al. eLife. 2020; 9. 

2. Kemp, L. et al. PLoS ONE. 2021; 16(1).

3. Petrovan, S. et al. 

4. Sutherland, W.J. et al.