DARPA program to focus on disease outbreak infrastructure, prevention

ARLINGTON, Va. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is debuting a new program -- dubbed Preventing Emerging Pathogenic Threats (PREEMPT) -- that seeks to support military readiness by going after new viral infectious diseases at the source; advance understanding of viruses and their interaction with animals, insects, and humans; and build infrastructure to deliver proactive interventions to reduce the risk from emerging and reemerging pathogens.


PREEMPT will have two technical tracks: one is the development of multiscale models and test beds to quantify the imminent emergence and reemergence of human pathogens, while the second will be development of scalable approaches to preventing pathogen spillover and transmission from animals and  disease vectors into humans.

“Despite global biosurveillance efforts, viral outbreaks continue to outpace medical preparedness. That means that in volunteering to be the first ones into harm’s way, our can quite literally be among the first people exposed to emerging infectious diseases,” said Jim Gimlett, PREEMPT program manager. “DARPA wants to reorient preparedness efforts to make them more proactive, so that instead of only modeling the trajectory of an epidemic as it spreads from human to human, we contain and suppress diseases in the animal species in which they originate before they can make a jump into people.”

According to DARPA officials, a core area of research will be understanding how viruses evolve within a species. PREEMPT will seek to identify opportunities for intervention by modeling the factors that enable pathogens to jump across species. PREEMPT researchers on the program will be required to conduct field surveillance of animal and insect species in high-risk areas around the world; generate testing data and sequence viruses as they evolve; analyze the risk of species jump by weighing factors such as past known jump events, ecology, seasonal variants, and geospatial data; and validate models using simulated natural environments.

DARPA will hold a Proposers Day on January 30, 2018, in Arlington, Virginia, to provide more information about PREEMPT and to answer questions from potential proposers. For details of the event, including registration requirements, please visit the FedBizOpps listing.

Topics covered in this article