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White House Unveils Bioeconomy Blueprint, Sees 'Omics Driving Innovations

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The White House today unveiled its list of top priorities for supporting and growing the US bioeconomy and published a number of initiatives the Obama administration has taken in a wide range of areas tied to the biotech and life sciences industries.

The White House said that the new National Bioeconomy Blueprint will serve as a guide for federal agencies to coordinate measures internally and with the private sector to enhance economic growth in biotechnology-based businesses.

After seeking public and industry input last fall on ways to address challenges and opportunities related to bio-based research innovations — including genomics, synthetic biology, proteomics, and high-throughput technologies — the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy has developed a set of five broad areas it sees as critical to bioeconomic development.

These strategic objectives include finding ways to bolster research and development, helping to move innovations from lab to market, reducing regulatory burdens, developing a workforce prepared for bio-based industries, and fostering public and private partnerships and precompetitive collaborations.

"The life sciences have proven to be a remarkably vital source of economic growth, and today they promise further game-changing advances in a wide range of commercial sectors," John Holdren, the president's science and technology advisor and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said in a statement. "This Administration is committed to accelerating these advances and ensuring that federal agencies and private entities work together to bring the benefits of the bioeconomy to market as quickly as possible."

The report acknowledges that a number of recent advances and more innovations in the pipeline in several specific areas may serve as the foundation for the bioeconomy to come. These emerging technologies include advances in synthetic biology, new tools that are making genome sequencing much cheaper and faster, proteomics-based advances in human health, and the use of bioinformatics and new information technologies that enable the analysis of large sets of data.

"The growth of today's US bioeconomy is due in large part to the development of three foundational technologies: genetic engineering, DNA sequencing, and automated high-throughput manipulations of biomolecules," according to the report. "While the potential of these technologies is far from exhausted, a number of important new technologies and innovative combinations of new and existing technologies are emerging. Tomorrow's bioeconomy relies on the expansion of emerging technologies," such as synthetic biology, proteomics, and bioinformatics, "as well as new technologies as yet unimagined."

The White House today also offered up a number of new initiatives that it believes will help fulfill the strategic objectives outlined in the blueprint including:

• a US Department of Agriculture rule to expand a program that will increase federal procurement of bio-based products called the BioPreferred program;

• an effort at the Food and Drug Administration to create networked IT environments that will enable multidisciplinary research teams to analyze information from its vast archives of clinical data;

• an FDA program at the Center for Devices and Radiological Health to enhance the knowledge medical device review staff have of existing and new technologies;

• a collaboration between the new National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences and drug maker Eli Lilly to create "a step-by-step playbook" to help scientists translate their findings into potential treatments, called the Assay Guidance Manual, which will be freely available in May;

• and an effort at the Department of Homeland Security to develop a genomics-based approach to microbial forensic analysis that would allow for the identification and characterization of any microbial organism, including unknown, chimeric, or synthetic organisms.

The report also highlighted a number of ongoing programs that are pursuing the strategic goals identified for the bioeconomy.

To support R&D investments, for example, the National Institutes of Health, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and the FDA have launched a collaboration to develop a chip that reproduced human physiological reactions to drugs and vaccines. Also, the USDA and Department of Energy's Plant Feedstock Genomics for Bioenergy Program has awarded $12.2 million to improve biofuel crops by increasing their yield, quality, and adaptability. The report also noted an Environmental Protection Agency project to use DNA sequencing to test 10,000 chemical compounds for toxicity, among many others efforts.

To help move bioinventions to the market and support the growth of new and established companies in these areas, NIH and FDA are contributing $9 million over three years to support research under a new regulatory science initiative. Among other initiatives, the NSF established the Innovation Corps to spur transformation of research into new technologies and to encourage collaborations between industry and academia focused on technology transfer; NIH has developed new, short-term license agreements for startup companies; and the White House has asked agencies to streamline their partnership processes, to participate in regional innovation clusters, and to share federal lab facilities with high-tech startups.

The Bioeconomy Blueprint also outlines ongoing programs that are focused on achieving its other goals of changing or reforming regulations to reduce barriers for businesses, supporting training and other programs aimed at cultivating a stronger and better bioeconomy workforce, and developing public-private partnerships and precompetitive collaborations.

"We appreciate the president's recognition of the need to clear the path for American innovation and ingenuity and unleash the tremendous promise of biotechnology to help solve many of the biggest challenges facing our nation today and foster economic growth throughout the United States," Biotechnology Industry Organization President and CEO Jim Greenwood said in a statement today.

"The report's high-level goals are consistent with many of BIO's primary goals, including supporting translational research, reducing regulatory barriers for biotech products and emerging technologies, improving coordination across federal agencies, reforming the US Food and Drug Administration, and expanding the bioeconomy workforce," he added.

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