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NEWS | April 15, 2024

Around the World: JPEO-CBRND Gathers Global Data to Enhance Threat Detection Capabilities

By Kelly Burkhalter, JPEO-CBRND Public Affairs

In recent years, the public has become more familiar with rapid biological diagnostic technologies for diseases due to the prevalence of at-home COVID-19 test kits and the 24-48-hour Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests completed in a laboratory. Developing effective tools like rapid COVID-19 tests takes a tremendous amount of performance data. As is the case in many other disciplines, the way to create the best product is to work with large data sets. Large amounts of biological data ensure accuracy of results by providing various points of comparison between samples, which help to keep a record of various data. The Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense’s (JPEO-CBRND) Joint Project Lead for Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense Enabling Biotechnologies (JPL CBRND EB) leads efforts to collect diverse data from across the world with the purpose of using it to ensure to ensure relevant and effective performance of biological detection tools. 

JPL CBRND EB provides the joint force, other U.S. governmental agencies, and international partners with high-quality, standardized biological detection capabilities that can identify and characterize biological agents. In 2012, JPEO-CBRND began an initiative called Targeted Acquisition of Reference Materials Augmenting Capabilities (TARMAC) to ensure its portfolio of assays and reagents were effective in the rapidly evolving biodefense environment, creating the basis for large biological data collecting. TARMAC aims to improve warfighter defense posture and readiness by collecting data samples of biological agents from around the world to expand the repository of biothreat reference materials. 

Through TARMAC, JPL CBRND EB gathers biological information from across the world on known and emerging threats to improve upon existing capabilities and support the development of medical countermeasures (MCMs). TARMAC engages with established laboratory sites in strategic locations around the world, to proactively close gaps in the biological detection product portfolio through data generation, verification of existing capabilities against these data sets, and gathering existing reference material. This is a collaborative engagement with the partner labs in which the JPL CBRND EB aides in building next generation sequencing technologies and training capacity and establishes resources for rapid response.  

“The work we do for TARMAC is important because our warfighters must be successful in many different situations, climates and domains. We need to know what kinds of threats they could face,” said Bryan Necciai, director of the Defense Biological Product Assurance Office, JPL CBRND EB. “Working with international partners enables us to obtain data from various countries, which gives us a broad data set to understand all the threats that are potentially out there. The more information we have, the great the breadth of threat space we can cover and to protect the joint force.” 

The data collected through the TARMAC program is shared with government agencies through a website called the Government Assays and Reagents for Defense Information Center (GARDIC). The GARDIC website allows for the organization, storage, retrieval, and display of information at the microbe level, and captures key assay and strain related data in simple user interfaces with downloadable information.

Data from TARMAC have played a pivotal role in several outbreaks over the years; TARMAC generated genome sequences were used to improve assays used in both the Ebola and COVID-19 response efforts. The samples collected were used to refine and improve other MCMs for lesser-known threats that warfighters may encounter across the world. In the case of Ebola, researchers saw that there was an outbreak of something that presented symptomology of Ebola in Zaire, but tests were showing up as negative. JPL CBRND EB determined there was a different strain that the current countermeasures could not detect. Thus, the data from TARMAC and GARDIC were used to create a new assay for the strain (ebola bundibugyo). This was possible through providing data needed to understand the current threat space and evaluate JPL CBRND EB’s product effectiveness and relevancy for the threats. Looking ahead, data generated from TARMAC will be used in emerging rapid countermeasure design and response projects such as the Generative Unconstrained Intelligent Drug Engineering (GUIDE) and Rapid Access to Products in Development (RAPID) programs. 

“Good products start with good data. We equip the joint force with relevant, timely, and well characterized products because of the way we gather and analyze diverse data sets,” Necciai said. “In the future, we want to continue to expand our international partnerships, and establish more pathways to acquire and share information across the enterprise with other organizations that lead military and public health.”

While TARMAC focuses on gathering global data, it is part of a system of information and tools JPL CBRND EB is creating to parse and process the data used for these products. These capabilities will come together to strengthen the products that keep the joint force protected. As the biological threat landscape evolves and becomes less predictable, deep data sets allow JPEO-CBRND to be better prepared and equipped to support the joint force.


Download our press kit, which includes helpful documents to better understand our work, such as – Command Brief, Chemical Biological Defense Program's Enterprise strategy, the JPEO-CBRND's Capabilities Catalog, Leadership Biographies, COVID-19 fact sheets, and contracting overview documents.  



JPEO-CBRND Public Affairs Office

The JPEO-CBRND Public Affairs Office coordinates and responds to all public affairs and media relations needs on behalf of the JPEO-CBRND. To request a speaker, subject matter expert, or for other interview or request for comment please email our Public Affairs Office email below.