CHICAGO – Entering to a standing ovation from a packed ballroom at the McCormick Place convention center at BIO 2006, concluded yesterday, former President Bill Clinton expounded on the role biotechnology must play in the coming decades in the areas of agriculture, healthcare and energy.

Following a brief introduction from BIO President Jim Greenwood, Clinton on Tuesday expressed his support for biotech R&D and challenged the industry to continue working on ways to help developing countries and boost global interaction while strengthening the American economy.

“I did everything I could as president to help support biotechnology,“ said Clinton, including the support of genetically enhanced crops.

He also took a few jabs at the current conservative administration, stating that the country should be governed by science and education, and not by “muzzling findings“ of science and education.

“We have to take the facts as we find them,“ he said, “and keep trying to move America forward.“

Advances in agriculture likely will also be needed as the world becomes more affected by global warming, which is progressing more rapidly than ever. Those climate changes, as well as the erosion of topsoil, could make farming in the future much more difficult, he said.

Clinton added that work on the agricultural side might also help to address America's most serious health problem, the “explosion of the obesity rate among children,“ which has led to an “explosion of the onset of Type II diabetes among children.“

While a lack of exercise and too-large portions primarily are to blame, the changing composition of food has contributed to the obesity epidemic. As an example, the use of fructose, a sweetener that is made cheaply from corn, “metabolizes differently from beet or cane sugar,“ he said.

The task for biotech is to figure out a way to “get the [cost] benefit [of fructose] for farmers, while fixing the metabolic problems.“

But, even as the U.S. suffers from food over-consumption, developing countries are facing threats from infectious diseases such as AIDS, as well as diseases like tuberculosis and malaria, which were eliminated in the developed world years ago. Biotech also has a responsibility against the “threat of the spread of infectious diseases,“ Clinton said, such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which was reported in China and Canada in 2002 and 2003. But after governments and scientists began getting information out, the virus was contained and no outbreaks have been seen since June 2003.

While agriculture and disease are ongoing areas of focus for the industry, Clinton said the most pressing concern should be how to “move to a biofuel future.“

With the U.S. spending about 70% of its oil consumption on transportation, it's obvious that work needs to be done to find alternative fuels, as well as finding clean energy sources to reduce the impact on the environment.

Work in this area would have another benefit for the U.S.

“This move will also reverse the declining wages, and ultimately provide sources of new jobs,“ Clinton said, much the same way that the advent of information technology in the early 1990s spurred a whole new industry.

This decade should focus on finding clean energy sources, Clinton said.

Study: radiology costs increasing

Radiology costs have risen to be 10% of the healthcare dollar and are growing at a rate of 18% to 20% a year, according to HealthLeaders-InterStudy (Nashville, Tennessee), a provider of managed care information to healthcare. In comparison, drug costs – the focus of attention by health plan management – are now growing at 10% or less.

HealthLeaders-InterStudy analysts said they expect to see the conflicts between cost, capability and appropriate use to be played out increasingly in radiology.