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BBC Factual commissions STV Studios to investigate Disease X – the potential source of the next global pandemic

Posted: 10th July 2024
  • Virologist and broadcaster Dr Chris van Tulleken will set out to uncover where Disease X could come from and what can be done to prevent it
  • High-stakes and time-critical documentary will examine why new viruses are emerging at an increased rate and explore the cutting-edge science of preparedness and prevention

STV Studios has been commissioned by BBC Factual to produce a landmark documentary film for BBC Two and iPlayer, Disease X, which will see virologist and broadcaster, Dr Chris van Tulleken, set off on an international hunt for the source of the next global pandemic.

‘Disease X’ is the name the World Health Organisation gives to the yet-to-be discovered virus most likely to cause the next pandemic. We don’t know what it is. What it looks like. How it will spread. But many believe it has the potential to be bigger and deadlier than Covid-19 or anything else we’ve seen before.

Every pandemic in modern times has come from a Disease X or a novel strain of flu. Covid-19 is the most recent example, but it wasn’t the first and it won’t be the last. Our only defence is to try to get ahead of it and identify where it will come from and what it will be – before it’s too late.

With millions of undiscovered viruses currently present in the world, this Horizon Special will follow Chris as he travels the globe to meet the scientists racing to prevent the next pandemic. During his high-stakes investigation, Chris will speak to leading experts in the fields of virology, epidemiology, vaccinology and public policy around the world. He’ll examine why new viruses are emerging at an increased rate, reveal the hotspots where they’re most likely to appear, and profile the most concerning new disease outbreaks.

There is hope: Chris will also meet the pioneering teams who, since the Covid-19 pandemic, have continued their work on the science of preparedness and prevention. He’ll visit their cutting-edge research labs and outbreak monitoring facilities in the UK and abroad and shine a light on their tireless work to keep us all safe.

Dr Chris van Tulleken said: “Covid-19 brought the tragic consequences of deadly pandemics to the forefront of public consciousness. Chillingly, the scientific consensus suggests another pandemic will happen in our lifetime and it could be even worse than what has gone before. This investigation into the source of the next pandemic is, therefore, imperative, and will provide a critical insight into one of the greatest threats facing humanity today.”

Disease X, a 1 x 60′ film for BBC Two and iPlayer, is made by STV Studios Factual – the team behind BBC Two documentary, Unvaccinated – and co-produced by The Open University, with support from Screen Scotland. It was commissioned by Jack Bootle, Head of Commissioning, Specialist Factual for BBC Two and iPlayer, and the Commissioning Editor is Tom Coveney, Head of Commissioning, Science.

Craig Hunter and Joe Sharp serve as Executive Producers, while the Director is Emeka Onono and the Production Executive is Paul McCaffery. The film was developed by Lucy Hazzard and Assistant Producer, Heather McCorriston.

Craig Hunter, Executive Producer and Creative Director of Factual at STV Studios, said: “This urgent factual thriller combines the professional and personal experience of Dr Chris – one of the UK’s most trusted scientific voices – with the latest frontline research to help us understand the scale of the Disease X threat and sound the alarm before it’s too late. This is, without doubt, one of the most critical science stories of our time.”

David Smith, Director of Screen Scotland, said: “It’s great to see the BBC commission ambitious and timely documentaries of this scale from STV Studios. Screen Scotland’s Broadcast Content Fund helps Scotland-based production companies like STV Studios to win and deliver new projects, driving economic growth and jobs for the Scottish production sector through their creativity. This is another vote of confidence in Scottish production talent from BBC Factual.”

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