The federal government is pledging more than $2 billion to launch President Biden’s new national biomanufacturing initiative, funding efforts to build or expand drug manufacturing sites in the U.S. and readying the raw materials needed to respond to a new pandemic.
The funding is linked to an executive order Biden signed Monday, laying out a goal of boosting the biotech supply chain and making the U.S. drug industry less reliant on foreign manufacturing.
Most of the medicines sold in the U.S. today are manufactured abroad. “I guarantee that three or four out of every five companies you ask work with contract research organizations like WuXi in China or Samsung Biologics in Korea,” Rahul Singhvi, CEO of the ARCH Venture-backed manufacturing firm Resilience, told STAT.
Even beyond that, small elements that are used in research labs across the country, like pipette tips, fell into short supply during the height of the Covid pandemic.
As part of the administration’s new initiative, the Department of Defense will invest $1 billion over the next five years to help public- and private-sector organizations expand their manufacturing capacity. Another $40 million will be used to expand production of antibiotics and the starting materials needed to produce “essential medications and respond to pandemics,” according to a press release.
On top of that, there are plans to invest in regional manufacturing in states like New Hampshire, Virginia, North Carolina, Oregon, and Alaska.
In addition to the drug industry funding, government agencies will also be giving money to projects to beef up biodefense efforts and create more sustainable fertilizers, plastics, and fuels.
Singhvi said that the team at Resilience, which is one of the larger manufacturing ventures in the biotech industry, hadn’t heard of the executive order in advance, but there were signs the administration was looking to take action after Biden signed another executive order in August focused on the semiconductor industry. That order, called the CHIPS and Science Act, includes more than $54 billion in funding.
The spending plans laid out Wednesday amount only to initial allocations of the more than $2 billion. The Department of Health and Human Services has been tasked with identifying the specific near-, medium-, and long-term biomanufacturing priorities, such as which medicines need the most manufacturing assistance, and reporting back in March 2023, according to a senior administration official.
“It is a very broad initiative that’s been announced. It seems to touch about every dimension of the problem, which, to their credit, I think is how you want to start,” said Rajeev Venkayya, who previously served as a special assistant to President George W. Bush and senior director for biodefense at the White House. He is now the CEO of a biotech startup called Aerium Therapeutics. “In some cases, government is the actor that needs to change behaviors. Some cases, they’re the actor that could help.”