Report: U.S. must invest in bioeconomy to cement biotech competitiveness

image of a plant inside a lightbulb signifying the bioeconomy or biological innovation - free image via Unsplash

Since the first genetic experiments 50 years ago, the U.S. has become the world leader in biotechnology and now has a bioeconomy worth nearly $1 trillion, but the country’s advantage in this market is at risk without action, according to an interim report released Dec. 1

The U.S. is in a unique position to leverage its biotechnology expertise and capitalize on the foundational investments that have built the biotechnology economy, which, according to recent estimates, may grow to $4 trillion over the next 10 to 20 years, says the report, by the Schmidt Futures Bioeconomy Task Force.

But it adds that there is a need for better research focus and investments in infrastructure and that the actions taken in the next five years are most important.

“Most U.S. foundational life sciences research funded today is curiosity and discovery-driven, not application-driven,” the report warns, calling for a focus on challenge-based research and innovation. The report also says the U.S. tendency to “innovate here, produce there” means other countries are getting technology and manufacturing jobs that should stay in the U.S. and build our economy. It, therefore, calls for increasing infrastructure to scale up biotechnology production.

To ensure maximum benefit from the potential of the U.S. bioeconomy, the report recommends:

  • The U.S. government should fund a five-year $600 million investment in a Bioproduction Science Initiative the National Science Foundation “that expands budgets and remits of relevant science agencies focused on advancing foundational science and technology development for current and future bioproduction, and is focused on addressing unmet research needs that hinder the translation of innovative technologies.”
  • Over the next two years, “the U.S. government should invest $1.2 billion in an extensive and flexible bioproduction infrastructure—one that can process multiple feedstocks using multiple organisms to produce multiple products at multiple scales,” in order to expand U.S. bioproduction capacity, with additional funding needed over time.
  • “The U. S. government should establish and sustain creative public-private partnerships with the goal of reducing the time it takes to successfully scale new products from several years to months.” This could include “partnerships between companies with deep artificial intelligence expertise and those with biomanufacturing facilities to provide services, facilities, and expertise for innovators.”

Following these recommendations can prevent U.S. companies with novel technologies from moving their efforts overseas. According to the report, that could help keep $260 billion in economic activity, as well as technology rights, from going to other countries, but will also generate a number of jobs and potentially reduce annual CO2 emissions by 450 million tons. Ultimately, a concerted effort can help the U.S. maintain leadership of a bioeconomy worth $4 trillion over the next 10 to 20 years.

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