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April 22, 2016

BRAG, B&C, and Industrial Biotechnology Host Bioeconomy Leaders Reception During BIO World Congress


Scientists, executives, investors, and media representatives gathered in San Diego, California on Monday evening for a fascinating and wide-ranging panel discussion on current issues facing bioeconomy leaders and innovators. The reception, hosted by the Biobased and Renewable Products Advocacy Group (BRAG®), Bergeson & Campbell, P.C. (B&C®), and Industrial Biotechnology, included panelists Christophe Schilling, Ph.D., Founder and CEO of Genomatica; Blake A. Simmons, Ph.D., Chief Science and Technology Officer and Vice-President of the Deconstruction Division of the Joint BioEnergy Institute; and Anna Rath, President and CEO of NexSteppe and recipient of the 2016 BIO Rosalind Franklin Award honoring outstanding women in the field of industrial biotechnology. The panel took advantage of the relaxed atmosphere of Southern California and sat at a table amongst the invited guests to field questions from moderator Richard E. Engler, Ph.D., Senior Chemist with B&C, and from many of the attendees.

Asked to name the most important factor in the success of their respective companies and labs, each panelist mentioned the quality of the people on their scientific and management teams as being more critical than any other factor. In response to the question "[d]o you discover a product and then find or create a market for it, or do you notice a market opportunity and then develop a product to meet it?," all three responded that they start with a market focus and seek ways to satisfy that market need. When asked about whether regulatory or policy hurdles have impacted them at all, Ms. Rath mentioned those concerns as a factor in NexSteppe's approach to product lines and bases of operation. By creating different sorghum varieties using traditional breeding and hybridization techniques, NexSteppe can optimize its products for biofuels, biobased chemicals, bioenergy, and biogas so that its operations are not overly impacted by any one policy or regulatory change, such as the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) in the U.S. Dr. Schilling identified regulatory issues as one of the reasons Genomatica initially focused on applying its bioengineering processes to create sustainable versions of existing industrial chemicals, that is, chemicals already in commerce that would not face regulatory scrutiny as a new substance.

After lamenting the lack of scientists in politics, a guest somewhat jokingly asked if anyone on the panel would consider running for office. While fervently denying any chance of that (eliciting an audience member to wonder if this was only a "Paul Ryan-esque disclaimer?"), the panelists went on to point toward the many outstanding scientists working at federal agencies, in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and in other advisory roles. Dr. Simmons particularly lauded the scientists in the 17 U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) National Laboratories, who not only create scientific breakthroughs for the benefit of U.S. business and citizens, but also advise political leaders on science issues, mentioning that after the reception, he needed to work on notes for a briefing he will give Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz later in the week. At the conclusion of the scheduled panel portion of the evening, many guests stayed to continue in conversation with the panelists, attendees, and sponsors.