President Joe Biden is infusing billions of dollars into a new, biotech-focused initiative, and it’s likely to have immediate ramifications for New England.
Boston has long been a hotbed for pharmaceuticals in addition to upstart biotechs. But the White House is expanding the definition of what a “bioeconomy” could be, looking beyond drugmaking to other applications of biological science, including agriculture, alternative fuels and national security.
“That’s more out-there stuff. My view is that out-there stuff is Boston’s strength,” said Jason Kelly, the CEO and co-founder of Ginkgo Bioworks Holdings Inc. (NYSE: DNA), who was at a summit the White House convened on the topic last week. “I think we should drive a truck through this. I think this is going to be a great opportunity for Boston.”
The Biden White House is looking to back growth in a handful of key areas. The first is domestic biomanufacturing capacity — something leaders at groups like the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council (MassBio) and Mass. Life Sciences Center have been working to build in the Commonwealth for years. The federal government has pledged $2 billion toward biomanufacturing and named New Hampshire as a specific location to host new facilities.
Per MassBio’s most recent “industry snapshot” report, 1.7 million square feet of manufacturing space are currently under construction in Massachusetts. The biomanufacturing sector is now responsible for around 55,000 jobs in the state, nearly half of them in Middlesex County, according to the same report.
“We know Massachusetts is the best place for R&D, but we also have a growing biomanufacturing sector,” said Joe Boncore, MassBio’s CEO. “The administration making these billions of dollars available for domestic biomanufacturing infrastructure is only going to help the Commonwealth.”
The Biden administration is also looking to bolster the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s BioPreferred program, increasing mandatory purchasing of bio-based products by federal agencies. Bio-based products are defined as anything derived from plants and other renewable agricultural, marine and forestry materials, which are used in essentially every industry.
“It is a good show of force from the government,” Kelly said. “Each person (at the summit) had things they were talking about. On the Department of Defense side, it was about China wanting to challenge our competitiveness on synthetic biology. You had the National Science Foundation director talking about how good the NSF was at going from lab to fab.”
The White House also said it planned to reinvest in R&D, train a new workforce in biotech and biomanufacturing, and streamline data-sharing and regulatory processes. Government agencies have just under 180 days to submit plans to the White House for how they might utilize the initiative
Biden signed the executive order launching the ambitious nationwide bioeconomy initiative on Sept. 12. It was one of a handful of high-profile biotech projects the White House highlighted last week. Others included ARPA-H, the DARPA-style biomedical research initiative focused on health care that will have a Ginkgo Bioworks executive as its first director, and the Cancer Moonshot, through which the Biden Administration hopes to reduce the cancer death rate 50% in the next 25 years. State officials and local industry leaders have been strongly pushing for ARPA-H to be based in Massachusetts.
“I’ve watched his happen various times,” Kelly added. “Bioeconomy blueprint, this, that. It never turns into anything. Now, the executive order is a real thing. People have been trying to get stuff like this to happen for a decade.”