Growth of Biotech Innovation Needs to be a National Priority
31 Dec, 2012By: James C. Greenwood
The Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) is the world’s largest biotechnology trade association. It provides advocacy, business development and communications services for more than 1,100 members worldwide, including biotechnology companies, academic institutions, state biotechnology centers and related organizations across the United States and in more than 30 other nations. It is BIO’s mission to be the champion of biotechnology and a voice for its members with policymakers and the public.
Unleashing the Promise of Biotechnology
Biotechnology breakthroughs heal, fuel and feed the world.
There are currently more than 250 approved biologic medicines and vaccines for serious diseases. These therapies have saved millions of lives. Yet, there remains much more to do in the fight against disease. The promise of biotechnology is to reduce suffering and prevent deaths by developing breakthroughs to detect, treat and prevent terrible diseases at a genetic or molecular level.
More than 900 new biologic medicines and vaccines are in development for conditions such as autoimmune diseases, cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases, rare genetic disorders, Parkinson’s disease and asthma. BIO believes we should make it a national priority to accelerate biotech innovation and get new, safe and effective treatments and cures to patients faster.
Feeding the World
Agricultural biotechnology is helping to improve global food security and increase earnings for farmers worldwide. With the global population expected to reach nine billion people by 2050, producing enough nutritious food to feed the world will be a critical challenge. Biotech breakthroughs increase crop yields, preserve and improve soils, enhance the control of pests, weeds and harmful diseases, and produce more healthful food with enhanced vitamin and nutrient levels. Biotech crops were introduced in the 1990s and are today grown by more than 16 million farmers on more than three billion acres of farmland in 29 countries worldwide.
The Bio-Based Economy
BIO members in the industrial and environmental biotech subsector are providing the foundations of an emerging “bio-based economy” that is poised to transform multiple industries. The bio-based economy includes bio-manufacturing, renewable energy and renewable chemicals.
Industrial biotech uses natural biological processes such as fermentation and harnesses enzymes, yeasts and microbes as “microscopic manufacturing plants.” Bio-manufacturing produces a wide range of products such as biodegradable plastics, “green” chemicals, energy-saving low temperature detergents, pollution-eating bacteria, multi-vitamins and biofuels.
Biotechnology is streamlining manufacturing, reducing the steps needed to make certain chemicals by up to 80 percent, and reducing the energy required in manufacturing processes by upwards of 50 percent. These advances benefit industries such as food processing, pharmaceuticals manufacturing, specialty chemicals manufacturing, textiles, paper and advanced materials.
The bio-based economy is revitalizing depressed rural communities across the nation. The use and conversion of agricultural feedstocks to higher-value products is a key component of the bio-based economy.
Biotech and Renewable Fuels
Renewable fuels, in particular, have been a lifeline for rural communities, driving a $500 billion increase in America’s farm assets since 2007 and supporting more than 400,000 jobs nationwide — jobs for farmers, rural co-ops, chemical engineers and construction workers in addition to jobs in direct biofuel production and distribution. As the advanced biofuel industry grows, good employment opportunities will be within reach for many more Americans. By 2022, the advanced biofuel sector is expected to add more than 800,000 new jobs.
Renewable fuels currently provide 10 percent of our nation’s on-road transportation fuel needs. According to a federal study, the United States has enough biomass to replace nearly one-third of our gasoline consumption with renewable fuel by 2030.
Investments in biotech innovation are moving us beyond conventional ethanol — typically produced from corn — to advanced biofuels like cellulosic ethanol, biobutanol, isobutanol and other drop-in fuels. These can be made from next-generation feedstocks like algae, agricultural waste, switchgrass and other dedicated-energy crops, and even household trash.
The Right Policy Environment for Innovation
Biotechnology promises to transform our lives, health and economy in many ways. But even the smartest scientists and businesspeople will not succeed without a business and policy environment that supports their work. As we enter 2013, there are significant policy challenges and opportunities ahead for the biosciences industry.
For the bio-based economy and biofuels sector, we must preserve the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which BIO successfully fought to get through Congress in 2005 and expand in 2007. The RFS sets annual standards for production and use of both conventional and advanced renewable fuels and creates incentives to attract needed investment to the sector.
By adopting the RFS, Congress sought to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and encourage development of renewable fuels technology by ensuring the market would be open to renewables. The RFS is a success, with conventional biofuels on target to reach 15 billion gallons by 2015, and advanced biofuels to reach 21 billion gallons by 2022, for a combined 36 billion gallons of renewable fuel. There are now renewable fuel facilities in 37 states, and new advanced and cellulosic facilities under construction in additional states.
Almost two-thirds of future RFS volumes are allocated for advanced renewable fuels with an overall target of 21 billion gallons of advanced biofuels by 2022. But to sustain our momentum and reach our goal, we need a stable, predictable policy. Conventional ethanol producers need the continued assurance that the market will accept their product. And the private companies that have made substantial investments and rapid progress in developing advanced biofuels need stability in order to raise additional investment to complete the job.
As Trade & Industry Development readers know, building commercial-scale advanced biorefineries isn’t cheap. It requires large capital investments. It could cost as much as $168 billion to build the biorefineries we will need to produce 21 billion gallons of advanced biofuels in 2022.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s logic-based decision to uphold the Renewable Fuel Standard against a recent request by several states to waive the RFS will protect America’s energy security and maintain the industry’s progress in commercializing advanced biofuels. BIO submitted comments to the agency noting that any waiver of the RFS would harm biofuel producers and biotechnology companies across the United States. We will continue to uphold the RFS against future challenges so that the renewable fuels can continue to grow, create jobs and improve our nation’s energy profile.
In the health arena, BIO is focused on speeding safe and effective breakthrough treatments to patients. Legislation we successfully fought for in 2012 makes needed improvements to the FDA regulatory process, such as improving communication between the agency and drug sponsors during the development process, and enhancing the Accelerated Approval pathway to expedite the development of therapies for patients suffering from serious and life-threatening diseases while preserving the FDA’s robust standards for safety and effectiveness.
Another challenge is attracting sufficient investment to fund research and development of new products. Access to capital has become much more difficult for innovative early-stage companies. Depressed investment in small biotech startups means that potential breakthroughs are often left on the laboratory shelf.
With Congress widely expected to undertake significant tax reform in 2013, BIO believes that a cornerstone of any effort to reform the corporate tax system should be the promotion of innovation through research and development and advanced manufacturing. We will advocate for a permanent, stable and predictable tax system that recognizes the special demands placed on biotech companies and other highly innovative industries, and that will spur capital formation for start-ups and emerging businesses.
These policies will help create high-quality American jobs, stimulate long-term economic growth and enable America to maintain its leadership in biotechnology so that our companies can continue to heal, fuel and feed the world.