By Nuala Moran
BioWorld International Correspondent
SAN DIEGO ¿ President George Bush signaled strong support for biotechnology during a videotaped address shown Monday at the BIO 2001 conference.
In his first speech to the industry since taking office in January, Bush promised a transparent, science-based regulatory system, confirmed continuation of R&D tax credits, announced new funding for the National Institutes of Health and stressed the role of the industry in the new U.S. energy policy.
The government will promote basic research by increasing the budget for the Bethesda, Md.-based NIH in 2002, and will take steps to ensure that people can get access to biotech products by working to strengthen Medicare, he said. Agricultural biotechnology is a critical tool for helping farmers in developing countries to produce more food from less land, and will also enhance the sustainability of U.S. farm land, Bush noted. In addition, he said, development of enzymes to convert biomass to fuel will be an important element of the government¿s new energy policy.
The president said that with completion of the Human Genome Project, it is now an ¿exciting time for biotechnology.¿ However, he added that important ethical questions will arise and the industry must develop technologies responsibly so that science advances in the public interest.
The level of support for biotechnology was underlined by Dylan Coburn Glenn, special assistant to the president for economic policy, who said that biotechnology is the most important aspect of his job. ¿Biotechnology more than any other industry is providing a set of tools that are crucial in many fields,¿ he said.
Biotech applications in health have been extremely well received by the public, while acceptance in food is strong and will get stronger as the public becomes more aware of the benefits, such as more nutritious and flavorful foods and reduced use of pesticides, he added. ¿Golden Rice is just the beginning.¿
Glenn noted that with rapid movements in stock prices, investors need ¿nerves of steel¿ to invest in biotech stocks. Most companies are still in the red and will be for some time to come, he said, and the industry could not survive without the support of venture capitalists. This makes the industry particularly dependent on government policy, and the government will give consideration to industry wish lists of initiatives to strengthen the environment for biotechnology, he added.
In particular, biotechnology is very sensitive to the regulatory regime. ¿The Bush administration recognizes the need for rational, science-based regulation,¿ Glenn said. On the food side, it will effectively engage with trading partners to win acceptance of GM crops, and on the domestic front will focus on food safety based on sound science, he said.
The government will take steps to ensure that the systems for protecting intellectual property keep pace with the challenges presented by biotechnology, Glenn said. This will include ensuring that U.S. Patent and Trademark Office staff has the training and access to information to keep up with advances.