White House unveils National Bioeconomy Blueprint

By Erin Voegele | April 26, 2012

On April 26 the Obama Administration released the National Bioeconomy Blueprint. The plan represents a comprehensive approach to harnessing innovations in biological research to address national challenges in health, food, energy and the environment. The initiative was originally announced by the White House last September. In October the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy issued a request for information soliciting public comments on ideas and priorities for the initiative. The results of that work are now being announced.

According to information released by the White House, the National Bioeconomy Blueprint will guide federal agencies, both in coordination with one another, and in partnership with private-sector entities, to enhance economic growth and job creation. The plan also aims to improve the health of Americans and help move the nation towards a clean energy future through scientific discovery and technological innovation. 

The National Bioeconomy Blueprint describes five main objectives, including:

-To support R&D Investments that provide the foundation for the future U.S. bioeconomy; this includes expanding and developing essentially bioeconomy technologies, integrated approaches across fields,  and implementation of funding mechanisms.

-To facilitate the transition of bioinventions from research lab to market, including an increased focus on translational and regulatory sciences; this includes accelerating progress to market, enhancing entrepreneurship at universities, and utilizing federal procurement authority.

-To develop and reform regulations to reduce barriers, increase the speed and predictability of regulatory processes, and reduce costs while protecting human and environmental health; this includes improving regulatory processes and regulations and collaboration with stakeholders.

To update training programs and align academic institution incentives with student training for national workforce needs; this includes the development of employer-educator partnerships and the reengineering of training programs.

To identify and support opportunities for the development of public-private partnerships and precompetitive collaborations where competitors pool resources, knowledge and expertise to learn from success and failures.

In coordination with the release of the National Bioeconomy Blueprint, a number of commitments that support its goals were released by Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. The USDA announced it will expand upon a Presidential Memorandum signed in February that directed federal agencies to more effectively execute federal procurement requirements for biobased products through the BioPreferred program. The USDA is also releasing a white paper that details progress made to data and emerging opportunities for the U.S. to transition from fossil fuels to biomass cultivated using sustainable agricultural practices. Furthermore, the National Science Foundation has developed an “Ideas Lab” collaboration with the U.K.’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council to identify novel approaches to design and engineer agricultural systems that will maintain—or increase—crop yields with minimum use of nitrogen fertilizers.

“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,” said John Holdren, the President’s science and technology advisor and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. “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.”

Several groups and companies have spoken out in support of the National Bioeconomy Blueprint. Brent Erickson, executive vice president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization’s Industrial & Environmental Section, has commended the Obama administration for recognizing that biotechnology innovation is a leading force for economic health and growth in the U.S. “This is not about picking winners and losers,” he said. “With biotechnology everyone wins! The National Bioeconomy Blueprint highlights several policy proposals that can clear the path for innovation.”

Novozymes is one of the many organizations that submitted public comments on the development of the National Bioeconomy Blueprint, and noted that the plan recognizes the important role enzyme technology plays in the development of a bioeconomy. “This plan is already at work building a national bioeconomy workforce,” said Adam Monroe, president of Novozymes North America. “Replacing chemistry with biology—fossil fuels with biofuels—puts steel in the ground, creates jobs and powers our economy. We look forward to continuing our work with President Obama and ensuring America has policies in place, like the renewable fuel standard, to meet that goal.”

Metabolix also supports the blueprint, and has also drawn attention to the job creation benefits it could have. “The National Bioeconomy Blueprint indicates the importance of investing in alternative, environmentally sound materials and fuels,” said Metabolix CEO Rick Eno. “Of the five strategies outlined in the initiative, Metabolix is currently dedicated to the second—facilitating the transition of bioinventions from research lab to market—having recently patented two technologies to produce biobased polymers and industrial chemicals. With 700 patents issued and pending, we are developing and commercializing PHA biopolymers and biobased industrial chemicals. From a job creation perspective, investment in the biotechnology space generates new jobs in the agriculture, chemical engineering and manufacturing sectors.”