February 18, 2020
We hope you enjoyed a day off. Congress isn’t back yet, but we are, with a look at how precision ag is being used on farms as well as a White House study that seems to be in direct opposition to some policies being proposed by the same White House. Here are around 900…

We hope you enjoyed a day off. Congress isn’t back yet, but we are, with a look at how precision ag is being used on farms as well as a White House study that seems to be in direct opposition to some policies being proposed by the same White House. Here are around 900 words, which you can read in 4 and a half minutes.


Futuristic technology is combining robotics with gene editing to optimize crop yields and make breeding more precise, reports The New York Times—which not only makes gene editing a little easier to understand, but also helps us in our quest to feed a growing population.

Meet TerraSentia, a small robot developed by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, which roves through crops to generate “the most detailed portrait possible of a field, from the size and health of the plants, to the number and quality of ears each corn plant will produce by the end of the season, so that agronomists can breed even better crops in the future.”


Resembling a “souped-up version of a lawn-mower,” TerraSentia can measure traits quickly—and using “advanced machine-learning skills,” will be able to “collate the influence of hundreds, even thousands, of factors on a plant’s future traits.” 

This is something farmers have been doing for a long time—but TerraSentia makes it easier. “Traditionally, plant breeders have measured these phenotypes by hand, and used them to select plants with the very best characteristics for creating hybrids. The advent of DNA sequencing has helped, enabling breeders to isolate genes for some desirable traits, but it still takes a human to assess whether the genes isolated from the previous generation actually led to improvements in the next one."

Why it matters: We have an urgent need to feed a growing population in a sustainable way, but new technologies are often met with skepticism at best and overly burdensome regulations at worst. This real-life example of agtech and biotech working together—utilizing a cute robot, no less—allows people to understand how gene editing actually works and can help farmers and the planet.


More Agriculture & Environment News: 

Reuters: EPA consulting White House over biofuel waiver program
“The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is seeking White House guidance on the future of its controversial biofuel waiver program after a court ruling cast doubt over its legitimacy, and aims to announce a decision by early next month.”


White House advisers say foreign governments are taking advantage of American biotech


A new White House study says foreign countries have underpriced prescription drugs to the detriment of patients and innovation—but this is an argument against policies being proposed by the very same White House. What does this mean for drug price controls?  

The study: Last week, the White House Council of Economic Advisers released Funding the Global Benefits to Biopharmaceutical Innovation, which finds foreign governments are taking advantage of biopharmaceutical research being done in the United States, The Wall Street Journal reports.

What’s happened: The underpricing of medicines in other countries has resulted in “a slower pace of overall innovation, less competition from new entrants, and thus higher prices paid for patented drugs that lack therapeutic competition,” says the study.

And worse: “Although foreign drug manufacturers also suffer from underpricing, the cost is borne disproportionately by the U.S. because it funds roughly half of all global medical research, invests 75% of global medical venture capital and accounts for 70% of patented pharmaceutical profits,” explains The Wall Street Journal

Hey, we agree. “The difference between U.S. and foreign drug prices has been widely noted and often cited by advocates of Washington doing more to reduce prices. The White House paper, however, argued that pricing is amiss abroad, not in the U.S.,” says The Wall Street Journal.

But isn’t this an argument AGAINST proposed drug price controls? Indeed. The Trump administration and Congress are considering “policies that would essentially copy those countries,” explains Bloomberg, including an international price index, or IPI, basing prices in the United States on prices in those very foreign countries…which the same White House says would harm patients and cures.

BIO's Take: There’s no question other countries are not paying for the true value of our innovation. But instead of exporting the solution, the Trump administration wants to import the problem. A race to the bottom with other countries on pricing will destroy the development of new treatments, as well as delay or deny patient access to biomedical breakthroughs. 


More Health Care News: 

The Detroit News: Medical innovation system under assault (opinion)
“It's important for the American public to understand how drug development works — and how the next generation will suffer if we don’t provide scientists with the resources required to enable continued innovation and discovery.”

BioCentury: WHO mapping out COVID-19 vaccines
“Scientists from biopharma companies, universities and regulatory agencies met at the WHO Feb. 11-12 to draw a roadmap for the development of vaccines to protect against COVID-19 amid a rapidly shifting terrain.” 

Reuters: Biotech undergoes the ultimate trial by epidemic
“A new coronavirus epidemic puts promising but untested science under a microscope. Biotech stars like the $7.7 billion Moderna boast new tech that would cut costs and time to find a vaccine. As the world grapples to contain a deadly new virus, they have a rare chance to demonstrate proof of concept.”

BIO Beltway Report

President Trump’s Tuesday: Heading to Los Angeles to meet with the 2028 Olympics planners, then a fundraising dinner in Beverly Hills. 

What’s Happening on Capitol Hill: The House and Senate are in recess.

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