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Senator Asks White House to Create Biotechnology Coordinator Position

NEW YORK, Feb 20 – Senator Tim Hutchinson (R-AR) said Tuesday he had recommended to President George W. Bush that a new position of biotechnology coordinator be created in order to unify efforts among a number of government agencies.

“I urged the White House to appoint a coordinator to harmonize the efforts of the Food and Drug Administration, the USDA, the EPA, the US Trade Representative, and the State Department so that the American position on biotechnology issues is a single clear voice rather than a cacophony of contradictory positions,” Hutchinson said at the UBS Warburg Bio Investor conference in New York.

“The biotech coordinator would strengthen the position of the biotech industry, protecting it from unscientific regulation and protectionism abroad while raising its profile domestically,” continued Hutchinson, who is also co-chair of the Senate biotechnology caucus, a group that aims to educate members of Congress about biotechnology issues.

Hutchinson said that President Bush had not yet indicated whether he would create such a position.

Carl Feldbaum, president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization, who together with former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, joined Hutchinson on the panel, applauded the creation of such a position.

Noting the former administration’s bungled gene patenting statement last March, which sent genomics stocks into a freefall, Feldbaum said that the creation of a position for a biotechnology coordinator in the White House would help reduce confusion about the government’s position on science and technology.

Yet, with or without the creation of such a position, the Bush administration is likely to demonstrate a strong commitment to biotechnology and science education, the panelists said.

Gingrich noted that many members of the current administration, including Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice, came from backgrounds that were in some way related to science and technology.

“What you’re going to discover I think is a team that by bias and inclination is oriented towards science,” said Gingrich. “I think you’ll find that Bush’s natural instincts are towards more science and more technology.”

Gingrich added that he supports an increase in budgets for governmental agencies that support fundamental sciences. He said that one of the biggest mistakes made by members of Congress who pushed for and achieved a doubling of the NIH budget was that they did not also advocate a similar increase for the National Science Foundation and other agencies that promote basic research.

“A very high percentage of fundamental breakthroughs happens in fundamental mathematics – not at the NIH,” he said.

In 1999 Congress agreed to double the NIH budget over a five-year period. The NIH budget for 2001 is $20.3 billion.

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