In characteristic shoot-from-the-hip style, President Bush told a lunch crowd of 8,000 assembled at the tenth annual Biotechnology Industry Organization meeting that the biotechnology industry “finds itself on the front lines of some of the great challenges of our time,” and that researchers in the field should devote their efforts to combating the dangers of bioterrorism, world hunger, and disease.
The president used his speech to underscore his support for biotechnology in general, but clearly bioterrorism served as the focal point for his interest in the field. “We know that our enemies have ambitions to acquire and use biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons,” he said. “We will not sit idly by as these threats gather, and we will continue to act before dangers are upon us.” Bush specifically mentioned his Project Bioshield, which aims to provide funds to buy large quantities of vaccines against potential bioterror agents, and told attendees to pressure their representatives into passing the legislation.
But in addition to discussing terrorism, Bush encouraged the crowd of researchers, executives, and investors to apply biotechnology toward addressing hunger, particularly in the developing world. He also used the occasion to press his counterparts in Europe to drop their opposition to biotech crops, invoking the plight of Africa: “For the sake of a continent threatened by famine I urge the European governments to end their opposition to biotechnology,” Bush said to applause. “We should encourage the spread of safe, effective biotechnology to win the fight against global hunger.”
Bush touched on specific aspects of biotechnology that might soon find application in treating disease. New monoclonal antibodies should help treat a wide range of illnesses, he said, and new methods for identifying genetic markers in patients should make it easier for doctors to tailor their treatments to specific individuals, he said. “Our biotechnology industry is the strongest in the world, and we need to keep it that way,” he added.
— John S. MacNeil