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Muted Praise for Obama’s Bioeconomy Plans

Daniel B. Moskowitz

Will President Obama’s plan help save the bioscience economy? Some industry experts aren’t so sure. 

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Last week, the White House released a plan to spur the bioscience economy.The plan outlines what it calls "a comprehensive approach to harnessing innovations in biological research" and promises specific federal action.

The actions in this “Bioeconomy Blueprint,” which was released on April 26, include increased government purchasing of biobased products, increased access for researchers to data from Food and Drug Administration resources, more help for basic science education, and new prizes and rewards for high-risk/high-reward research. In addition, the plan calls for federal agencies to provide new incentives for "precompetitive collaborations among private entities to benefit the bioeconomy broadly," and for reduced barriers and improved predictability of the regulatory process.

Will President Obama’s plan help save the bioscience economy? Some industry experts aren’t so sure.  Source: University of Pittsburgh at Bradford

By and large, those involved in biotechnology gave cautious applause to the initiative. "The blueprint should be praised for identifying the main issues and areas of focus that the US must address if we are to move forward as a leader in bioscience innovation," said Holli Riebel, president of the Colorado Bioscience Association.

Paul Pescatello, president of the New England Biotechnology Association, likes that the administration’s plans "emphasize that breakthroughs very much save money for our economy in the long-term."

Among the many promises, one of the most important may be improved public-private partnerships, according to Jill Euken, deputy director of the Bioeconomy Institute at Iowa State University. "We've found these to be very effective," she said. "Policy is going to have more to do with how this industry develops than technology will." In addition, Euken commended the commitment to speeding up the federal approval process, which will ensure that research "won't languish in the labs waiting for regulators to act."

But the praise is tempered by some skepticism. Many are uncertain whether the administration can actually accomplish the ambitious agenda set out in the blueprint. "In the industry, we would all love more details, more meat on the bones," said Pescatello.

"A key question is how this report will be implemented. It will take a continued and concerted national commitment," said Bruce Stillman, president of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

Furthermore, some are disappointed at what they feel is missing in US President Barack Obama’s blueprint. For example, Chris Rivera, president of the Washington Biotechnology and Biomedical Association, said that the biggest omission was immigration law reform. Under the current laws, foreign students trained at US universities often have difficulty getting permission to continue working in the US after they have complete their degrees.

Other suggestions that were submitted to the White House but not included in the final report include much more sweeping actions. For instance, the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology suggested that the plan include a commitment to fight obesity, and the Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America organization called for bigger tax credits for R&D expenditures.

Keywords:  economy science policy