Growing the Future

BPI Contributor

March 1, 2009

15 Min Read


No segment of the biotechnology industry has received more public scrutiny than agricultural biotech — except maybe its application to food. And none has been subject to more “hype” and high hopes for instant results than biofuels. By contrast, industrial biotechnology seems almost invisible to the public at large. In general, the more immediate the effects on consumers, the more likely they are to pay attention and either laud or loathe the associated technology.

The general public doesn’t know anything about the economics of large-scale farming or agriculture’s decades-long dependence on herbicides and pesticides, and people don’t much care whether a farmer loses a crop when they can get whatever they want from someone else. And even though consumers ultimately benefit from improved industrial processes, they don’t think about them unless they’re watching an episode of “How It’s Made” on the Discovery Channel. Understanding is never guaranteed — and it is the vital key to public acceptance as well as the realization that scientific discoveries do not immediately translate into products on store shelves or fuel in the gas-tank.

A biobased economy is not just our future; it is today. Biotech food, fuel, packaging, clothing, cosmetics, and materials are positively affecting our economy and the environment. Biotechnology is enabling industry and academia to develop environmentally and economically sustainable solutions that could free society from its dependence on depletable resources. But the bright future is clouded by challenges and misinformation that dampen societal support.

For example, genetically engineered livestock could transform public health through biomedical, food, and environmental applications. Livestock can be engineered to develop new drugs and diagnostic techniques, to improve food and fiber production, to lessen the impact of animal husbandry on the environment, and even to increase their own resistance to disease. These issues are important as the world population grows, and this technology should have a place in solutions to maintain or improve our standard of living around the globe. Although food applications of genetically engineered animals remain controversial in many countries, many biomedical and other applications are still in the works. The genetically engineered animal industry is embracing a defined regulatory process that will allow the commercialization of its products (e.g., the Codex guideline for conducting food-safety risk assessment of foods derived from recombinant-DNA animals).



Food and Agriculture

Millions of farmers around the world have seen many benefits from using agricultural biotechnology on their farms. As the ag-biotech industry continues to gain worldwide acceptance, understanding and exploring these benefits should provide the complete story of the long-term impact of biotech on opportunities for farms of all sizes.

For example, environmental stresses such as extreme temperatures, drought, flood, and poor soil quality are major causes of agricultural yield losses across the globe. Resulting crop losses can be as high as 80% of attainable yields, and changing climate patterns may increase these losses further. With increasing demands for food, feed, fiber, and fuel, farmers must strive to extract maximum yields from all available arable land. Research into plant stress tolerance is an urgent need for agriculture throughout the world and especially important for developing countries, which are often located in areas affected by extreme heat and drought. Advances in plant biotechnology can help protect valuable yields by offering novel solutions to enhance stress tolerance in all major crops.

The word sustainability has become popular in many industries, but how it is defined varies. For agricultural production, there are various economic, environmental, and technological factors to consider in determining the extent to which a product or practice is sustainable.Industrialized and developing countries alike are struggling to reconcile growing populations with the decreasing availability of natural resources. The tension between an increased demand for resources and a decrease in their availability can be addressed at least in part by technologies such as ag biotech.

Ariel Gruswitz, managing director of the Council for Biotechnology Information, is organizing a session on sustainability for the 2009 BIO International Convention. “The topic and the increasing frequency with which it is discussed and applied in the business world reaches beyond the agriculture industry into almost every other industry in existence,” Gruswitz explains. “The purpose of this session is to engage speakers from various perspectives in a debate that analyzes the factors to be considered when defining sustainable agriculture and the extent to which ag biotech and the production practices it allows for contribute to growers’ ability to reduce their environmental footprint. The panel will provide an overview of products in the pipeline that will help conserve resources and/or further reduce the environmental footprint of agriculture.”

Gruswitz continues, “With the ailing global economy, 2009 is a crucial year for members and prospective members of the biotechnology industry to take advantage of opportunities to network and educate themselves about trends and developments in the industry.”

The Business of Agriculture: Even as agricultural biotechnology plays an increasingly important role in ensuring global food and fuel supplies, the technology is facing legal and regulatory challenges in several countries that could create barriers to its development and deployment of new technologies.

Meanwhile, public sector support for international agricultural research is declining. Although the private sector plays an increasingly important role in international agricultural research and development, its impact in developing countries is limited. That impact can be maximized through strong partnerships with the public sector.

Establishment of successful partnerships is constrained, however, by the fact that the public sector is often suspicious of private sector motives while the private sector is concerned about its business interests. The US Agency for International Development’s biotechnology group has established a number of successful partnerships to develop crops such as rice, cowpea, and eggplant, and it is also supporting studies that address how market segmentation and seed distribution systems can be structured to maximize private sector involvement as well as benefits to smallholder and resource-poor farmers.

Saharah Moon Chapotin of USAID is organizing a session on this topic at the 2009 BIO International Convention. “This session will allow BIO members to learn about how to develop successful public–private partnerships (PPPs) in agricultural biotechnology and how their companies can benefit from being involved. Participants will gain a better understanding of why these partnerships are both necessary and an opportunity to increase market access.

“Private-sector participants will gain information on how PPPs in agricultural biotechnology can be successful and beneficial to all parties; public-sector participants will gain a better understanding of private sector motives and business needs. Panelists will also share specific strategies on how these partnerships can address IP, regulatory, and seed delivery issues based on their own research and experience.”

Chapotin adds that in 2009, “food prices are very high while agricultural productivity (especially of key staple crops) is not meeting demand and will be negatively impacted by climate change in coming years. Biotech will be essential to reversing this trend, and there are opportunities for the private sector to play an increasingly important role in international agricultural R&D, especially as public-sector support is threatened by the global financial crisis.”

The Latest Advances for Food and Forests: Driven by increasingly self-confident and health-conscious consumers, the “functional food” ingredient market is growing strongly. Prophylactic nutraceutical products would be medically desirable as well. Companies in this sector must deliver more sophisticated products based on real science and provide real evidence to prove that they offer health benefits in addition to simple nourishment. To participate successfully in this changing environment, food biotech companies are reconsidering their own innovation strategies and applying pharma research technologies.

Functional ingredients and foods are part of a global mega-trend. These trends offer substantial opportunity because these consumers are prepared to pay more. So the functional food market is expected to be a key area for growth and differentiation. The worldwide functional foods market alone is projected to grow to $109 billion by 2010.

Joerg Gruenwald, president of Analyze & Realize AG, will be presenting on this topic at the 2009 BIO International Convention. He says that biotech is broadening in scope. “It will expand into food and supplement products, combine traditional knowledge (e.g., of plants) with modern high-tech research. The most stable sectors through the current financial crisis will be nutrition and health products. BIO will lead innovation in those sectors.” Gruenwald is author of the Physician’s Desk Reference for Herbal Medicines.


Food and Agriculture Sessions: Tuesday 19 May 2009

Global Product Stewardship

Public–Private Partnerships in Agricultural
Biotechnology: Going Beyond
Development Impact

Saving Harvests, Lives, and Livelihoods: Breakthroughs in Plant Stress Tolerance Technologies

The Value Proposition for Next-Generation Energy Crops: Value Chain and Business Model Considerations

Food and Agriculture Sessions: Wednesday 20 May 2009

Genetically Engineered Animals (Livestock) and Public Health

Challenges and Solutions in Commercializing Genetically Engineered Animals and Their Products

Advances and Opportunities for AgBiotech in Latin America

Ag-Biotech: Improving Farmers’ Lives

Food and Agriculture Sessions: Thursday 21 May 2009

Plant Science Technologies: Recent Advances that Will Change Our World

Environment, Economy, and Society: Plant Biotechnology’s Role in Advancing

Sustainable Development

Legal and Regulatory Threats to Agricultural Biotechnology in the United States

The Bio-Based Economy Is Now

For complete session information, visit

Modern biotechnology’s capacity to control phenotypes through targeted gene regulation and expression is a vital component of new methodologies for value-adding in biological systems. In forestry, this has and will continue to lead to novel uses of trees including applications producing biofibers, carbohydrates, lignocellulosic biofuels, biodegradable plastics, oils, industrial feedstocks, and biopharma products, as well as bioremediation.

Trees are increasingly used to make new advanced materials: Global opportunities stretch from 5 tons/acre at $100,000/kg for taxan antitumor compounds to 100 billion tons/acre at $1/kg for biofunctionalised cellulose fibres used in advanced composites. Particular emphasis has been placed on lignin and polyphenolics, which have considerable potential in manufacture of high-value products. Biotech modification of lignin can also produce useful thermoplastics. Forest-derived bioactive polyphenolics could have health applications (through antioxidant properties as well as viral and cancer treatments).


Industrial/Environmental Biotech: Tuesday 19 May 2009

Hype or Hope: The Real Prospects for Success in Cleantech

The Forest Bioeconomy: Next-Generation Biofuels to Personalized Medicine

Bringing Market Perspective to the Development of Biobased Chemicals

The Importance of Water

Industrial/Environmental Biotech: Wednesday 20 May 2009

The Future of Industrial Biotechnology

Behind the Scenes or Behind Your Back?

The Intricacies of Open Innovation in the Cleantech World

Creating a Future for Sustainable

Cellulosic Biofuel Production

Improving Drug Manufacturing and Helping the Environment through Controlled Enzyme Evolution

Industrial/Environmental Biotech: Thursday 21 May 2009

Science for Better Food: Pharma R&D

Approaches in Functional Ingredients

From Field to Wheels: What’s Going to Work in Biofuels?

For complete session information, visit

Forest biotechnology is a rapidly growing field, with interest generated not only from the biofuels community (a number of pilot projects are happening globally now), but also from communities with an interest in the complex chemistry and vast volumes of wood as a resource. One session on this topic at the 2009 BIO International Convention will provide a unique internationally relevant opportunity to bring decision-makers together from various industry sectors (fuels, medicine, functional food additives, intelligent packaging etc.) to examine the potential inherent in the forest resource. The session will also demonstrate a singular example of the capacity of biotechnology to completely transform the value paradigm of a traditional, commodity-based industry.

Forests span the globe and are the world’s most abundant source of complex renewable biopolymers and associated biochemicals. Trees also scrub carbon from the atmosphere through their tremendous appetites for CO2. This resource is largely untapped, and many countries are now considering the use of biotechnology to unlock the potential of their indigenous resource in a bioeconomy framework.

Biotech Fueling the Future

Biofuels represent a cutting-edge research market for applied biotechnology that is gaining much recognition in the public eye as a topic to watch. They clearly represent “what’s next” for bioscience.

Cellulosic biofuels are one of the most promising environmentally sound solutions to the global demand for liquid transportation fuel. Major scientific and technological advances are currently being made toward using various cellulosic feedstocks for biofuel production. But sustainability considerations that will affect biofuel production include water, resource, and land management; potential environmental impacts; and efficiency in the production and distribution of biofuels. Those issues influence whether this industry will develop as an economically viable energy alternative to play a significant role in replacing fossil fuel dependence with more sustainable alternatives.

Biogas, bioethanol, biobutanol, biodiesel, algae, and straight vegetable oil are some such alternatives that have been suggested. The opportunity behind biofuel is simple: cleaner energy production and a smaller net atmospheric carbon release than any fossil fuels can offer. But with so many barriers including cost efficiency, energy efficiency, and basic transportation of liquid fuels, predicting which biofuels are worth pursuing (that is, which will work) is a challenge.

John Stafford, chairman of Xencor, Inc., is organizing a session addressing these questions at the 2009 BIO International Convention. He says, “As companies of all sizes are bracing themselves for an uncertain 2009, budget cuts, and shifting business development priorities, now is the time to build relationships and start forging strategic partnerships that will serve them now or in the future. This panel will showcase the frontier of scientific research that will impact the future of the broader biotech industry.”

The promise of biofuels lies beyond first-gen corn ethanol,” says Jason I. Spark, vice president of Porter Novelli Life Sciences, “and the wheels of innovation continue to turn. This panel will shed light on the companies and issues driving second- and third-generation biofuels aimed at achieving the promise of cleaner, more efficient renewable energy.”

The new generation of high-performing energy crops requires a compelling value proposition for landowners and farmers, an economic source of energy for end users, and effective collaboration with all participants in the supply chain. Aaron Schuchart, VP of corporate development for Mendel Biotechnology, is organizing a session on this aspect of the biofuels business for BIO’s annual international convention. “Applying biotechnology to improve crop productivity and supply chains requiring fewer inputs and land are critical to meeting society’s demands for more sustainable sources of food, feed, fiber, and energy,” he says. “While many previous presentations have been made on this topic, this will be the first time key opinion leaders representing a diverse range of feedstock, technologies, and business will address the business models required to make the industry a commercial success under a range of possible scenarios.” They will offer novel insights into the developing bioenergy value chain and related technologies, likely industry structure scenarios, and analysis of business models for feedstock provision, says Schuchart.

“Advancements in industrial and agricultural biotechnology are poised to deliver meaningful solutions to society’s needs for the sustainable production of food, feed, fiber, and energy,” he adds. “Many of these technologies are near-commercial ready and represent the initial foundation for the emerging renewable economy.”

Industrial Biotechnology

Cleantech is a term used to describe emerging technologies that will improve operational performance, productivity, and/or efficiency while reducing costs, inputs, energy consumption, waste, and/or pollution in the industrial community. This idea has come about as consumer, regulatory, and industry interest in clean forms of energy generation has grown — specifically due to the rise in awareness of climate change.

Biotechnology offers considerable opportunities in this area, which has been gaining in popularity as a target for investment dollars. But some question whether cleantech is truly capable of transforming current processes and industries into truly sustainable ones or is just some fad invented by venture capitalists. What is the appropriate role of government in promoting and fostering such technologies?

“Open innovation” may be the newest paradigm for industrial innovation management, in which companies buy and sell technology in support of their business goals on the open market rather than relying only on internal development and use. In the past decade, our economy has become more dynamic and more entrepreneurial. Rapid development of the Internet and other electronic technologies, increased mobility of highly skilled workers, expansion of venture capital, and the ability to outsource have led to rapid proliferation of information. Those new technologies and opportunities are forcing companies to question their traditionally “closed” innovation paradigm for managing intellectual property. Meanwhile, the urgent desire for alternative energy/green energy is happening around the world. One consequence is the need for new business paradigms, such as open innovation, which will enable companies to work together globally.


As of press time, the exhibit hall product focus zones were only beginning to fill up. For updates, visit the BIO exhibitor floor-plan at

The Bio Fuels Zone

The biotechnology industry is applying research today and using biotech tools for sustainable energy production now and for the future. Interest in biofuels is growing worldwide for many reasons. Exhibitors in this area are leaders and innovators in this sector, and they will be showcasing renewable energy and solid, liquid, and gas fuels made using biomass.

Exhibitors (as of 1 February 2009)

ArborGen, LLC (Booth #4861)

The Industrial/Environmental Zone

The same genomic and proteomic technologies used to discover new drugs and therapeutics are also changing the way consumer products are made. These technologies can create new enzyme “biocatalysts” for the production of raw and “intermediate” materials and consumer products.Exhibitors in this zone are those whose products and services relate to biofuels, pharmaceutical manufacturing, biobased plastics, cellulosic ethanol, food ingredients, cosmetics, and fine chemicals.

Exhibitors (as of 1 February 2009)

Carbosynth Limited (Booth #4661)

Adam Donovan of Fish & Richardson is organizing a session on this aspect of cleantech for the 2009 BIO International Convention to offer the perspectives of a diverse group of thought leaders about the intricacies of the open-innovation model and show how each organization within the model can capture, monetize, and protect its intellectual property. “Attendees will learn from open-innovation practitioners,” he says, “how open innovation is implemented in a business model and how it is linked to corporate strategy; how each entity can create and capture value within the open innovation model; how open innovation affects IP rights; and best practices for cooperation amongst diverse entities with disparate objectives operating within this model. With continuing investment in cleantech industries (including from the new US administration), now is the time to focus on capturing and maximizing the value derived from intellectual property.”


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