Biotechnology by Mid-Century: Assessing current capabilities. Anticipating tomorrow’s leaders.
The esteemed physicist Freeman Dyson, in an essay in the New York Review of Books in 2007, wrote: “It has become part of the accepted wisdom to say that the twentieth century was the century of physics and the twenty-first century will be the century of biology.” Cutting-edge biotechnologies, e.g., synthetic biology and genome engineering, offer opportunities to improve our ability to enhance wellness and treat disease, address food insecurity, mitigate climate change, strengthen biodefense, and as we have seen over recent months, combat future pandemics.
Today, the United States leads the world in biotechnological expertise and innovation. Whether it continues to do so by mid-century will depend on how the biotechnology development environment, i.e., the drivers of innovation, in the United States compares to that of other nations. The JCVI Policy Center, led by Robert Friedman, PhD, recently published a report titled “Biotechnology by Mid-Century: Assessing current capabilities. Anticipating tomorrow’s leaders.,” which attempts to define and semi‐quantitatively characterize the factors that may increase or decrease the rate of biotechnology innovation in selected nations around the world. By 2050, Dr. Friedman and his team project that the United States’ foremost competitors will be China, followed by India. Continued leadership by the US compared to China seems likely but is by no means assured. Other countries examined within the report include Brazil, Germany, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, and South Korea.
Within the report, Dr. Friedman and his team assembled and analyzed a series of close to 100 indicators in a wide variety of categories for each of the 12 countries. These include indicators of scientific, technological, policy, and broad societal drivers that enable the development of biotechnology innovation today and in the future. For lack of an existing term, they coined the word “bio-enterprise” to refer to the entire biotechnology innovation and production system, including the broader science and technology and general societal environment on which it depends.
From these 100 indicators they constructed two aggregate scores: 1) The bio-enterprise capacity score is an absolute measure that reflects each country’s capacity, or potential to invent and produce, biotechnology products. 2) The bio-enterprise innovation-driver score is an intensity measure that reflects each country’s capability to grow its bio-enterprise over the next years.
Through this report, Dr. Friedman and his team successfully developed a framework with which to understand the drivers of innovation in the biotechnology sector. They were able to use this framework and data to construct well‐reasoned scenarios of the relative biotechnological prowess of the United States versus other nations several decades into the future. By identifying the underlying drivers of innovation, they hope that the framework will be useful for tracking progress as future conditions change.