In an executive order signed on Monday, President Joe Biden announced steps his administration is taking to strengthen the “bioeconomy” in the United States, a classification that covers research and development on a wide range of products, including medical supplies. , new sustainable fuels and food, and technologies to combat climate change.
The order comes barely a month after Biden signed a major piece of legislation, the CHIPS Act, intended to boost American semiconductor manufacturing, an area in which the United States has lost its once-dominant global position.
The effort to boost the U.S. biotech sector further underscores the administration’s apparent belief that deeper federal government engagement in domestic manufacturing operations is necessary to preserve U.S. competitiveness in the global economy. .
In a briefing over the weekend, administration officials made it clear that the administration’s push to bring more U.S.-based biotech manufacturing online is a response to other countries, in particularly China, which is investing heavily in the sector.
Administration officials pointed out that products based on biotechnology and “biomanufacturing” present a promising alternative to many current products – fuel, plastics and other materials – that are currently made from byproducts of petrochemicals. loaded with carbon.
The executive order reads in part: “It is my administration’s policy to coordinate a whole-of-government approach to advancing biotechnology and biomanufacturing toward innovative solutions in the areas of health, climate change, energy, food security, agriculture, supply chain resilience, and national and economic security.
He continues, “At the heart of this policy and its outcomes are the principles of fairness, ethics, safety and security that enable access to technologies, processes and products in a way that benefits all Americans and to the global community and that maintains America’s technological leadership. and economic competitiveness.
Among the Biden administration’s promises in the executive order is a vow to “replace fragile supply chains from abroad with strong ones at home.” But not everyone agrees that a government effort to manipulate the supply chain is the smartest long-term strategy.
“Government can play a role in funding basic research, university labs and the like, but when it starts to micromanage supply chains, you end up with more fragile supply chains than robust ones. “Scott Lincicome, director of general economics and commerce at the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute, told VOA.
Likewise, he said, government decisions to favor “onshore” production over foreign producers can be dangerous.
“There’s nothing wrong with domestic manufacturing, but as we’ve learned throughout the pandemic, there’s a big problem with putting all your eggs in one basket, whether they’re all foreign or all nationals,” Lincicome said.
“While relocation may insulate you from foreign shocks, it makes you much more vulnerable to domestic shocks,” he added. “And in the process, it makes you overall poorer and weaker. The best approach is to have a very open and diverse global supply chain with domestic networks, foreign suppliers, and very light government intervention on trade, investment, talent and the like.
The executive order spells out a number of areas where the Biden administration plans to flex the muscle of the federal government, including domestic manufacturing of biotech products. The goal is to encourage both the creation of domestic manufacturing facilities, as well as the fuel and raw material supply chains needed to operate them.
The administration also promises to help create markets for biotech products by increasing mandatory procurement requirements for federal agencies.
In addition, the executive order proposes to increase research and development funding and provide support for innovators in the form of federal data that helps identify unmet needs. Other efforts will include professional training programs, streamlined regulatory approval of new products, and cooperative programs with international partners.
Repair the fences
The administration’s efforts to help U.S. biotech companies could help mend barriers with the industry, which has been angered by elements of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which Biden recently signed into law. .
The IRA, for the first time, allows Medicare, the government’s health insurance program for the elderly, to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies over the prices of certain prescription drugs. Many industry players strongly opposed the measure, saying it would reduce incentives to innovate.
The executive order comes less than a week after the Biotechnology Innovation Organization sent a letter to the administration asking it to “take additional steps to encourage the development and deployment of pioneering technologies that will further reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” greenhouse in manufacturing, transportation and agricultural supply”. chains to build a stronger, more resilient and environmentally sustainable economy.
Biden signed the order before heading to Boston, where he was to tout the results of the infrastructure bill he signed into law last year, which pumped federal money into a wide range of infrastructure projects. construction.
Also on Monday, Biden named Renee Wegrzyn, a biotech executive, to head the new Advanced Health Research Projects Agency. The announcement came amid a discussion of Biden’s “moonshot” initiative to conduct new research into cancer treatments.