Friday, 3 December 2010

Federal Funding for Biotechnology Research

An issue central to the competitive position of U.S. efforts in biotechnology is a sufficient and stable level of funding for areas of science crucial to the field. In relative and absolute terms, the United States supports more research relevant to biotechnology than any other country. Clearly, intensive and sustained Federal investment in applications of biotechnology to the life sciences has been transformed into commercial products in some industries faster than others. Commercial applications continue to be more advanced in areas such as human therapeutics and diagnostics, largely due to the high 22 l Biotechnology in a Global Economy levels of funding of basic biological research by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Other areas, such as agriculture, chemicals, and waste degradation, have not come close to approaching the same levels of funding enjoyed by the biomedical sciences. In some cases, such as agriculture and waste degradation, slow progress in commercial activity could be due in part to insufficient funds for basic research; in other cases, such as chemicals, potential products are simply not being developed because industry does not consider the biotechnology products or processes sufficiently better (either functionally or economically) than those that already exist.
Congress could determine that Federal levels of investment in R&D over recent years have adequately supported the forward integration of biotechnology into many sectors and have contributed to the commercial successes of U.S. biotechnology companies. Proceeding with the current funding patterns would ensure a stable level of research relevant to biotechnology and its applications. Such an approach, however, would perpetuate current disparities in research emphases, with biomedicine continuing to fare better than agriculture and waste management.