Dr. Jason Kelly: Teaming up to build our bio future

Lately the world is enraptured with AI and its potential to change our lives. AI transforms our digital world—the world of information. But changing lives and livelihoods requires transforming not just information but atoms: our physical world. Biotechnology, the most sophisticated manufacturing technology on the planet, offers a profoundly generative capacity to transform atoms into what we need the most to survive and thrive: food, medicines, materials, and more. We are in a pivotal moment for shaping this biotech-enabled future, and showing what United States leadership looks like and why it matters, and we need your help to ensure we get it right.

As Chair of the National Security Commission on Emerging Biotechnology (NSCEB), I have a front-row seat to biotech innovation happening across the United States. A company in Washington state is using advances in generative AI to design brand-new antibodies to treat cancer, and another in Massachusetts used CRISPR to create the first FDA-approved gene therapy to treat sickle cell disease. Researchers in Indiana are reimagining how biotechnology can bolster U.S. agriculture, and entrepreneurs in North Carolina are developing bio-cement for construction. The strength of a U.S. approach to innovation, one that fosters the talents and resources present in every region, has never been clearer.

Charting a path for U.S. biotech leadership

These examples are only a peek into what biotech can already do, but consider what the U.S. biotechnology sector is poised to accomplish if truly prioritized:

What if we could deliver personalized therapies as easily as picking up a prescription from the pharmacy?

What if we could grow fruits and vegetables that are packed with twice as many nutrients to combat food insecurity and nutrient deficiency?

What if we could strengthen supply chains by manufacturing more critical materials using fermentation?

I want a bright biotech future for everyone, and I know it won’t happen by default. It will only be realized through collaboration among a government that promotes an innovation-driven ecosystem, a strong biotechnology industry that embodies our entrepreneurial spirit, curiosity-driven academic institutions across our country, and engaged communities whose livelihoods stand to be improved by these innovations. These public-private collaborations gave us the internet, semiconductors, and virtually every FDA-approved drug in the last 15 years.

The importance of collaboration

I know the importance of government collaborations firsthand; they launched my career. My PhD research at MIT was supported by the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program, which in turn inspired me and my classmates to start a biotechnology company. Ginkgo Bioworks wouldn’t exist without another key government program—the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, which provides commercialization support and coaching. Now, 15 years later, our company serves both government and industry partners in developing bio-based innovations.

I am honored to be asked to draw on this experience to help chart a path for continued U.S. biotechnology leadership, and I hope to inspire and enable others to do the same. Recognizing biotechnology’s wide-ranging impact on health security, food security, economic security, and overall national security, Congress established our Commission to ensure that the United States reaches biotechnology’s “ChatGPT moment” first and is prepared to meet it. Congress charged our bipartisan Commission, with members of Congress and experts from industry, government, and academia, to put forward policy recommendations to ensure the United States government promotes a strong biotechnology industry that safeguards the American people.

We aren’t just talking about formulating abstract ideas or writing a report that sits on the shelf. Rather, we are focused on translating good policy ideas into real, concrete action. And we are already seeing early impact through our efforts:

  • Our bipartisan congressional Commissioners in the House and Senate have introduced our recommendations to strengthen U.S. food security and agriculture for inclusion in the 2024 Farm Bill;
  • The House of Representatives included our policy ideas in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of FY2025 to augment our national defense posture with the latest advances in biotechnology;
  • As referenced in the Bipartisan Senate AI Working Group’s Driving U.S. Innovation in Artificial Intelligence roadmap, we are collaborating closely with Congress to make sure that the U.S. leads in this new age of artificial intelligence and its convergence with biotechnology; and
  • The Commission’s white papers and educational resources are influencing policymakers, industry leaders, and members of the public, from informing Congressional action to validating important industry developments like AlphaFold3.

How the biotech industry can get involved

These milestones are only the beginning of our work, and we are running at full speed to develop more recommendations—but we can’t do it alone. We need the biotech industry to work with us, sharing your perspectives on what you believe a strong U.S. biotechnology ecosystem looks like.

We also need your expertise now. Commissions are short-lived and fast-paced, so if you want to contribute to the Commission’s efforts and inform these policy ideas, we need to hear from you. Our mandate spans broadly across biotechnology and national security, and some key questions that we seek to answer include:

How can we help facilitate better collaborations between the Federal government and the innovators and entrepreneurs in biotechnology?

What does a modern biotechnology regulatory system, that both facilitates innovation and protects all Americans, look like?

How can U.S. agencies collaborate with your company to ensure that biotechnology is developed responsibly and equitably?

If you have answers to these questions or other ideas about the future of biotechnology, please share them with us. I’ll be at the BIO International Convention on June 5 in San Diego and would love to hear your feedback there. You can also share your thoughts via email at ideas@biotech.senate.gov.

A strong U.S. biotechnology industry is only possible if we work together. I’m excited to help build a biotechnology future by and for everyone and hope you’ll join us.

Dr. Jason Kelly is the co-founder and CEO of Ginkgo Bioworks, the leading horizontal platform for cell programming. Headquartered in Boston, Ginkgo is a synthetic biology company that enables customers across industries to outsource microbial, fungal, and mammalian cell engineering to Ginkgo’s automated laboratories. Ginkgo supports the development of applications ranging from vaccine manufacturing, agricultural biologicals and new pharmaceutical modalities to fragrances, sustainable dyes, and biosynthetic cannabinoids, as well as pandemic response and biosecurity tools including monitoring for COVID-19 at airports with the CDC. Ginkgo went public and raised $1.6B in October 2021 and is listed on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker $DNA. Prior to Ginkgo, Jason received B.S. degrees in Chemical Engineering and Biology and a PhD in Biological Engineering all from MIT. In 2022, he was appointed Chair of the National Security Commission on Emerging Biotechnology where he works with eleven other Commissioners to develop actionable recommendations for Congress at the intersection of emerging biotechnology and national security and to prepare the U.S. for the Age of Biotechnology.

Scroll to Top
SUBSCRIBE TO THE FREE GOOD DAY BIO NEWSLETTER