$2 Billion to Build the Bioeconomy

$2 Billion to Build the Bioeconomy

Go to a family reunion and tell your aunt that you work in biotechnology. If you’re anything like me, you’ll hear groans and a general appeal to the “dangers” of genetically-engineered foods.

But the U.S. bioeconomy is about so much more than food. Biotechnology already makes products that are all around us. Not just medicines for COVID-19, but diagnostic tests for cancers and enzymes for detergents. The bioeconomy already accounts for 5% of national GDP, five times more than the semiconductor industry.

President Biden issued an Executive Order on Monday to create a National Biotechnology and Biomanufacturing Initiative. This announcement outlined plans for:

  1. More federal investments in biotechnology.

  2. Acceleration of domestic biomanufacturing so that vaccines, medicines, and other bioengineered goods are made in the U.S.

  3. Training for a future biotechnology workforce. (Wrench CRISPR and other genetic engineering tools away from the exclusive clutches of PhDs and MScs, and give them to undergraduates and tradeswomen.)

The Executive Order adopted many proposals from the Schmidt Futures’ Task Force on Synthetic Biology and the Bioeconomy. But it was, otherwise, generally sparse on details. How much money will the U.S. government invest? What will the training programs look like? Many of these questions were answered this morning, as the White House announced plans to allocate $2 billion in funding before its Summit on Biotechnology and Biomanufacturing. Here are the highlights.

DALL-E, “green vines growing out of a test tube.”
  1. The global bioeconomy will be worth between $4 and $30 trillion by the end of the decade. The entirety of U.S. GDP today is about $21 trillion.

  2. The CHIPS and Science Act of 2022 was signed into law on August 9. It appropriated $52.7 billion over five years for the semiconductor manufacturing industry, and $170 billion for research and development initiatives. We now know that about $2 billion will go towards academic science, industry R&D, training programs, the development of ethical frameworks for biotechnology, and a slew of other strategic investments.

  3. Director of the National Economic Council, Brian Deese, highlighted three focus areas for funds at the Summit:

    1. Strengthen supply chains and lower prices. The Biden White House doesn’t want to rely on foreign suppliers

    2. Expand domestic manufacturing capacity. Leverage local feedstocks and scale up fermentation. Make “place-based” impacts on economic activity.

    3. Create jobs and broaden the diversity of the bio-economy’s workforce.

  4. The White House this morning announced more than $2 billion in funding for the National Biotechnology and Biomanufacturing Initiative. This funding includes:

    • $40 million for the Department of Health and Human Services to expand biomanufacturing, mainly for pharmaceuticals.

    • $270 million for the Department of Defense (DoD) to launch a “Tri-Service Biotechnology for a Resilient Supply Chain program.”

      • During the Summit, Dr. Kathleen Hicks (Deputy Secretary of Defense) emphasized that China is prioritizing U.S. biotechnology and wants to “displace U.S. leadership and…challenge our competitiveness.” Hicks gave three applications of biotechnology that the DoD is excited by, including an “algae-based substance” that quickly hardens and can be used to make helipads in remote locations, bio-enabled manufacturing to resupply Army and Marine Corps units on-the-go, and biosensors to detect chemical or biological agents.

    • Over the next five years, the DoD “will be investing nearly $1.5 billion to expand U.S. bioindustrial manufacturing infrastructure.” To prove that ‘government-funded innovation’ is not oxymoronic, Hicks appealed to DARPA’s work in funding early mRNA vaccine work ten years ago.

    • The DoD will allocate an additional $200 million to strengthen biosecurity and cybersecurity technologies for biomanufacturing facilities.

    • Microbes need sugar to grow. Much of that sugar comes from food crops. The Department of Energy (DoE) will invest about $100 million to “leverage the estimated 1 billion tons of sustainable biomass and waste resources in the United States to provide domestic supply chains for fuels, chemicals, and materials,” according to the White House Fact Sheet from this morning.

    • The DoE earmarked an additional $60 million for “de-risking” biomanufacturing. About $20 million will be used to launch a “bioassurance program” to detect and mitigate risks from biotechnology.

    • The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will give out $500 million in grants to “support independent, innovative, and sustainable American fertilizer production to supply American farmers” using biotechnology.

    • The National Science Foundation (NSF) will launch a “competition to fund Regional Innovation Engines throughout the United States. These Engines will support key areas of national interest,” including “manufacturing life-saving medicines, reducing waste, and mitigating climate change.”

    • About $70 million is allocated for training programs, especially for underrepresented ethnicities, through the National Institutes of Health and USDA.

    • The NSF is using $20 million to fund a competition to develop a “biosciences data center.” The goal is to collect, curate, and distribute data that will help us understand “systems at small scales, which will produce new biotechnology designs to make products in agriculture, medicine and health, and materials.”

  5. This morning’s summit also featured comments from Jason Kelly (CEO of Ginkgo Bioworks), Jennifer Holmgren (CEO of Lanzatech) and Gaurab Chakrabarti (CEO of Solugen). Each talked about their companies and how they are already building the bioeconomy. Jason emphasized the need to more reliably program living cells, much like “installing an app on your phone,” while Jennifer emphasized that LanzaTech is already capturing waste carbon from industrial factories, and can convert that waste into roughly 100 different chemicals, including polyester for dresses.

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Thanks for reading,

— Niko ([email protected])

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