By Skandan Ananthasekar
On May 16th, The Council on Strategic Risks (CSR) hosted an event on the federal government’s strategy for driving innovation in biomanufacturing. The panel event featured expert perspectives from Dr. Georgia Lagoudas, Mr. Maynard Holliday, and Dr. Anup Singh. The panelists discussed how the federal interagency is positioning itself to capitalize on the transformative effects of biotechnology through investments in biomanufacturing.
A few important themes resonated with CSR from the panelists’ remarks:
- Addressing emerging biological events, including those that may be extreme in scale, will require the type of biomanufacturing advances that the U.S. government is now pursuing.
- The federal government is taking significant steps to improve the nation’s preparedness against biological threats as can be seen in the quantitative goals set by the White House and the Department of Defense’s (DoD) initial $1.2 billion investment in biomanufacturing.
- Building a resilient bioeconomy and biomanufacturing base will require biosafety and biosecurity best practices to be incorporated at all levels of the bioeconomy enterprise.
- There is broad recognition that biomanufacturing will have impacts beyond the health sector and will be critical for national security, making now the time to make significant policy progress towards building a robust bioeconomy.
Dr. Georgia Lagoudas, Senior Advisor for Biotechnology and Bioeconomy at the White House Office of Science & Tech Policy, described in her opening remarks that global industry is on the “cusp of an industrial revolution that will be fueled by biotechnology and biomanufacturing.” She pointed out that biotechnology will not only be a tool of the health sector but will have impacts across all sectors of the economy. However, the United States must have a robust domestic biomanufacturing base to prevent the fruits of domestic science and technology innovation from flowing overseas.
President Biden’s recent executive order (EO) on launching a National Biomanufacturing and BIotechnology Initiative, which Dr. Lagoudas is in charge of coordinating, lays out a vision for doing just this. The Initiative brings together the whole of government and private partners with a clear focus on harnessing biotechnology to address a whole array of national priorities, including food security, economic security, national security, climate change, and supply chain resiliency. Underlying the entire Initiative is a focus on the values of equity, ethics, safety, and security. As a part of this, the EO also launched a Biosafety and Biosecurity Innovation Initiative to integrate these principles within biomanufacturing and the bioeconomy.
Mr. Maynard Holliday, Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Critical Technologies at DoD, discussed DoD’s recently released biomanufacturing strategy and the department’s $1.2 billion investment in biomanufacturing. As mentioned by Mr. Holliday, the DoD’s investment is a part of a culture shift within the department that recognizes the importance of biotechnology in both “preventing and creating strategic surprise.” The DoD biomanufacturing strategy aims to strengthen national security and protect the health of citizens. With advanced biomanufacturing capabilities, DoD will be better able to rapidly respond to biological threats and deploy life-saving medical countermeasures. Similar to other panelists, Mr. Holliday also reiterated that domestic biomanufacturing capacity will build supply chain resiliency and allow critical supplies to be available wherever and whenever they are needed.
Dr. Anup Singh, Associate Director for Engineering at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, discussed the value of the Department of Energy (DOE) National Laboratories. The unique capabilities at the DOE National Labs make it ideally suited to help address gaps in biosecurity through biomanufacturing. DOE National Labs can leverage its synchrotron light sources, supercomputers, and user facilities to address gaps in pathogen surveillance, diagnostics, and vaccines. Dr. Singh highlighted the role that DOE National Labs can play in developing pathogen-agnostic diagnostics but they must be given the remit and funding to do so. Finally, Dr. Singh talked about the need to invest in moonshots like fusion ignition. These types of moonshots keep the United States at the forefront of science and serve as a deterrence within itself. However, they require long-term vision and public-private partnerships.
The event concluded with a question and answer session from the event’s moderator, Christine Parthemore, and the audience. The discussion was far-ranging but a common theme was the importance of a whole-of-society approach to advancing biomanufacturing. With something as multi-sectoral as biomanufacturing there will have to be coordination across the government and with private partners. For example, as Dr. Singh noted, DOE National Labs can utilize its unique capabilities to de-risk technologies like pathogen-agnostic diagnostics and then transition the technology into the private sector.
As the goals outlined in President Biden’s EO are implemented over the coming years, CSR is committed to showcasing positive momentum and highlighting critical gaps in biomanufacturing by continuing conversations with experts of the caliber present during this event.