President Joe Biden on Monday signed an executive order establishing a government-wide strategy to boost biotechnology production and research in the United States. The effort is related to Biden's "moonshot" efforts at "ending cancer as we know it."
Monday's announcement comes exactly 60 years after President John F. Kennedy's famous 1962 "moonshot" speech, in which he said the U.S. "choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard." Biden's plan to tackle cancer, announced in February, includes an effort to cut cancer fatalities by 50 percent over the next 25 years. In 2020, the CDC reports cancer was the second leading cause of death in the U.S.
In addition to biotechnology's role in fighting cancer, the order says the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the sector's "vital role" in "developing and producing life-saving diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines," and outlines a broad vision for strengthening the nation's scientific capabilities.
"We need to develop genetic engineering technologies and techniques to be able to write circuitry for cells and predictably program biology in the same way in which we write software and program computers; unlock the power of biological data, including through computing tools and artificial intelligence; and advance the science of scale‑up production while reducing the obstacles for commercialization so that innovative technologies and products can reach markets faster," the statement said.
The executive order also touches on the importance of reducing biological risks that might come with such advancements, including potential harms to people, animals, and the environment. In addition, the administration said the U.S. must take steps to safeguard U.S. technologies and data, "as foreign adversaries and strategic competitors alike use legal and illegal means" to acquire them.
The administration's emphasis on international competition and national security aligns with its previous efforts to support domestic production, including similar orders around electric vehicle batteries and semiconductors.
However, the order is more like the opening salvo rather than a fully fleshed out government plan. What it mostly does is order various government agencies to produce reports on how to support the biotech industry in their respective areas. While the order does call on the federal government to "bolster and coordinate" investment in research and development (R&D) around biotechnology, it's not yet clear if any money will be put aside for the effort.
Notably, it took two years for the administration's nominal support for domestic semiconductor manufacturing to yield a bill in Congress that put real money into the sector.
"Biotechnology harnesses the power of biology to create new services and products, which provide opportunities to grow the United States economy and workforce and improve the quality of our lives and the environment," the order states.
Updated on September 12, 2022, at 3:37 p.m. ET with the latest details.