President Barack Obama’s administration rolled out its National Bioeconomy Blueprint last week, on April 26. It details measures by which Washington intends to apply biological innovations toward national challenges that include health, food, energy, and the environment.
At the top of the Blueprint’s five priorities is supporting “R&D investments that will provide the foundation for the future U.S. bioeconomy.” Also on the list: increasing the focus on translational and regulatory sciences, reforming regulations, updating training programs, and identifying and supporting opportunities for public-private partnerships.
While those are all helpful components, the report should have also identified one or more “grand challenges”—a question asked in solicitation of public comment on the draft Blueprint last year. For example, developing tools to study the human immune system was the challenge suggested by Aprile L. Pilon, Ph.D., president and CEO of Clarassance. The firm is developing a recombinant human CC10 protein for prevention of neonatal bronchopulmonary dysplasia.
The Blueprint should have also outlined initiatives to assist small- and medium-sized businesses in maximizing their own contribution to the nation’s bioeconomy. In her comment to OSTP and an interview with GEN, for example, Dr. Pilon suggested increased funding for FDA’s Orphan Products Grant Program, which has stayed flat at $14 million for five years despite a growing number of funding applications. She also suggested more money for SBIR. The program’s recent reauthorization phases in 1% more funding over six years, but it also lets agencies use 3% toward administration, which takes away from grant money.
Bruce W. Stillman, Ph.D., president of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, offered grand-challenge suggestions that included launching a national Cancer Therapeutics Initiative, making a major commitment to fundamental neuroscience, investing in basic plant science to address energy and food needs, and continuing to invest in the training of scientists.
Nevertheless, Dr. Stillman told GEN, the report offered several valuable recommendations for building biotech-based economic activity. “A key question is how this report will be implemented,” Dr. Stillman pointed out. “It will take a continued and concerted national commitment to keep the U.S. at the forefront of bioscience. Only with such a commitment can we achieve the recommendations described in the report.”