Perspective

John David: LMI Taking Long View of Biosecurity, CWMD Threats

December 19, 2019

LMI Staff

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John David

John David is director of LMI’s National Security Science & Technology (S&T) practice, established in 2019 following the acquisition of The Tauri Group. He leads development and delivery of services and capabilities related to chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) defense and preparedness; life sciences; and biosecurity. He also oversees technical management of client activities that advance counter–weapons of mass destruction (CWMD) and counterproliferation missions. At Tauri, John led the Asymmetric Threat Mitigation division, managing CWMD and life sciences portfolios.

How has the threat landscape for weapons of mass destruction changed over the last decade?

The democratization of biotechnology has profoundly affected the CWMD mission space, lowering the barriers to entry so that actors, good and bad, have greater access. The CRISPR-Cas9 system, for instance, has reduced the cost and complexity of genome editing. This presents the potential for the introduction of synthetic biological agents—“designer bugs,” you could call them—and weaponizing them. The Clade X exercise hosted by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security illustrated the immense challenge the U.S. and global community face to prevent a novel bioagent from becoming a pandemic. By the same token, advancements in biotechnology are tremendous for medical research and will help us solve existing and future chem-bio threats.

 

How does LMI help government customers keep pace with the evolution of CWMD threats?

Our customers must be engaged in the here and now, focused on what they have to do to meet their missions today. We focus downstream, examining science and technology developments through the lens of their potential impact on the CWMD mission space. How could a new capability be applied to the benefit or detriment of first responders or warfighters in CBRN environments? We think purposefully about that question, and, if it’s a threat, how to neutralize it—what is needed in terms of personal protection equipment, detection systems, medical countermeasures, and so forth. We cannot eliminate every threat, but saying, “Here’s a problem, let’s start thinking about it now,” is one of the most important ways we serve them.

— John David

Can you provide an example?

Around 2009, [Tauri] teamed with the Transformational Medical Technologies Initiative in the Department of Defense (DoD). We were investigating the Ebola virus as a potential threat and working on what a therapeutic might look like. This was years before Ebola was recognized as it is today. When the major West Africa outbreak struck in 2014, significant research and development for therapeutics and diagnostics had been conducted by another client, the Joint Program Manager for Medical Countermeasure Systems. DoD and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention brought a diagnostic tool into the field that our team had helped develop. R&D advancements in the years before the outbreak enabled the U.S. to respond more quickly and effectively than it might have otherwise.

 

How does LMI’s broader organization support your work in National Security Science & Technology?

You’re not going to take a scientist or engineer and say, “You’re solving this problem alone.” Scientists have always operated as part of a larger team, and we have a tremendous team at LMI. We rely on experts in data science, software solutions and digital architectures, and logistics to enable experimentation and perform data analysis. From the creation of virtual CBRN environments that evaluate prototyped capabilities to advanced analytics platforms that enable us to collect, curate, and parse enormous data sets seeking critical kernels of information, it’s a team effort. The collection, management, and dissemination of knowledge is integral to engineering scientific breakthroughs—in the age of big data, it’s more essential than ever.

The National Security S&T practice is growing quickly at LMI. Beyond STEM skill sets and technical experience, what do you look for in candidates?

I’m looking for mission focus. Someone who can put themselves in the customer’s shoes, see the need, see the long-term goal, and appreciate that it’s going to be a long drive. This isn’t for someone who wants to identify a problem, create a solution in two weeks or two months, and then move on to something else. You need to bring a certain level of vigilance, because as I said before, we’re trying to solve problems that in some cases haven’t materialized. The ability to look ahead, see what might become a problem tomorrow, and ask what we can do about it—that’s the insight our clients need.

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