What's on the ag agenda?

March 22, 2021
Starting a new week with a look at the Biden administration’s agriculture policy agenda and the future of mRNA medicine, as well as the woman responsible for the modern face mask. (939 words, 4 minutes, 41 seconds)
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Starting a new week with a look at the Biden administration’s agriculture policy agenda and the future of mRNA medicine, as well as the woman responsible for the modern face mask. (939 words, 4 minutes, 41 seconds)

 

What’s on the ag agenda?

 
 

With Katherine Tai confirmed as the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) and Secretary Tom Vilsack in place at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), we’re getting a better understanding of the Biden administration’s agricultural policy agenda—and the role of biotechnology in it.

USDA is placing a premium on innovation. As Secretary Vilsack said during his confirmation hearing, USDA will not be able to accomplish its goals “without innovation. We won't be able to do it without precision agriculture. We won't be able to do it without a technology that converts agricultural waste into a variety of products.”

He’s focused on, among other things, revitalizing rural areas coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic and “looking to innovation specifically to bring jobs back to rural America,” says Sarah Gallo, BIO’s Acting Senior Advisor for Agriculture & Environment Policy.

And biotechnology offers solutions—from bringing jobs and revenue to farm communities, to tackling climate change

It’s also important to build regulatory efficiency and consumer acceptance around new technologies—such as animal biotechnology, which would benefit from a “much clearer path to commercialization,” added Gallo. Since animal biotechnology is currently treated as "new animal drugs,” companies have been encouraged to invest elsewhere and “export innovation.” 

International trade policy is important too—and interaction with USTR matters. “In today’s global marketplace, domestic biotechnology policy has to have an eye towards the international dialogue,” said Gallo—and USDA and USTR must speak “with one voice.” 

Read more about what to expect from the administration’s agricultural policy agenda.

 

More Agriculture and Environment News:

Knowable Magazine: Growing a more resilient global food system
“Minimizing food waste—currently nearly another third of global food production—would also ease the pressure. But genetic modification should also be on the table, says David Zilberman, an agricultural economist at the University of California, Berkeley, because it offers the fastest, most targeted way to add new traits to crop plants and farm animals that can help them adapt to changing conditions.” 

Nature: How microbes in permafrost could trigger a massive carbon bomb
“Genomics studies are helping to reveal how bacteria and archaea influence one of Earth’s largest carbon stores as it begins to thaw.”

 
 
 
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mRNA on the move

 
 
The pandemic accelerated the development and use of messenger RNA (mRNA) technology, which has the potential to bring to patients vaccines and cures that previously weren’t possible. Recently, we’ve learned more about what’s next for mRNA—including possible new medicines for devastating neurological diseases and cancer.
 
The COVID-19 vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech are made with mRNA technology, which teaches cells how to make protein that triggers an immune response and produce antibodies without using or injecting the live virus, as we’ve explained.
 
“Researchers have been studying and working with mRNA vaccines for decades,”  says the CDC—and this research was rapidly accelerated when the novel coronavirus emerged.
 
mRNA is the “new four-letter word that’s revolutionizing health,” says Futurism—with potential uses ranging from a vaccine for HIV, which Moderna is developing, to providing nutrition recommendations tailored to an individual.
 
BIO members Anima Biotech and Takeda announced last week that they will collaborate to discover and develop mRNA medicines for neurological diseases including Huntington’s disease, for which there’s currently no cure.
 
And mRNA could even be used to treat cancer, BioNTech Co-Founder Özlem Türeci told the Associated Press Friday, by using the body’s own immune system to attack a tumor.
 
Listen: Dr. Tal Zaks, chief medical officer of Moderna, joined the I AM BIO Podcast last year to talk about mRNA technology and how they were able to move so quickly. Get the episode at  www.bio.org/podcast or wherever you get your podcasts, including  AppleGoogle, and  Spotify.
 

More Health Care News:
 
The Wall Street Journal: COVID-19 variant vaccines in works at Johnson & Johnson
“J&J Chief Executive Alex Gorsky said Thursday he was hopeful J&J’s newly authorized vaccine and other current COVID-19 shots provide some protection against new variants, but booster shots or modified versions of original vaccines might be needed.”
 
 
 
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Sara Turnbull.jpg

Continue to mask up—and thank Sara Little Turnbull (1917-2015), who's face mask design led to the medical-grade N95 mask that's helping to get the pandemic under control.

Known as “corporate America’s secret weapon,” Turnbull consulted with companies including General Mills, Coca-Cola, and Revlon—but her work with 3M would change medical care. 3M hired her to explore uses for a new melded polymer fiber material—including gift ribbons and bra cups. At the time, she was taking care of sick family members and spending a lot of time in hospitals—and realized the material might block disease particles. Her 1972 mask worked well for blocking dust and airborne toxins; while it didn’t block disease particles, others would build on the design to create the highly effective N95 mask, which has been critical to stopping transmission of COVID-19.  

Turnbull also consulted for DuPont, Pfizer, and NASA, designing things like medication delivery systems, space suits, and household cleaning products. 

“I see design as essentially creating order,” she once said, “but I also encourage students to learn from their own experience, at times letting their minds meander to discover the unexpected and the creative accident.” 

Listen to this NPR podcast to learn more about the history of the mask and Turnbull’s role in designing it (at the beginning and around the 22:44 mark).

 
BIO Beltway Report
BIO Beltway Report
 
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President Biden’s Monday: Meeting with the Senate Democratic caucus this evening. 

What’s Happening on Capitol Hill: The Senate is expected to vote on the nomination of Boston Mayor Marty Walsh for Labor secretary. A lot of hearings to watch this week, starting tomorrow with a House Financial Services hearing on Treasury’s and the Federal Reserve’s pandemic response. And House Democrats are eyeing drug pricing in the next “big bill,” reports POLITICO.

 
 
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