Members and friends of Virginia Bio,
It’s 7th in the nation among its peers for awards of federal research dollars, and 6th in the nation for private/industry support. It’s focus is an industry which is, according to some measures, Virginia’s largest private industry. That would be the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech (CALS).
I had the privilege of visiting CALS last week with Assistant Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Carrie Chenery. The Assistant Secretary was moving ahead on Secretary Todd Haymore’s intention to prioritize support for the opportunities presented by biotechnology in the Ag sector. Secretary Haymore’s interest was formed when he accompanied Governor McAuliffe, Secretary of Commerce and Trade Maurice Jones and VEDP CEO Martin Briley to the BIO Convention in San Diego last summer and is driven by a recent announcement of an export deal between China and a Virginia ag bio company.
Our long time friends at Virginia Tech and leaders of the College arranged an all-day lightning round of presentations on research, commercialization and industrial collaborations, with a tour of the fascinating new Human and Agricultural Biosciences Building 1. HABB1 is home to the Department of Biological Systems Engineering and the Department of Food Science and Technology. We heard bright and enthusiastic faculty researchers and entrepreneurs on such topics as: industrial scale production of plant extracts as inputs for advanced composite materials; biofuel feedstock optimization and process innovations; animal and human drug development from plant sourced molecules; the integration of traditional breeding with new genomics to produce better commercial cultivars; and in vitro enzyme systems based on plant metabolism to create bioenergy, leading to the battery that runs on sugar!
I was struck with the excellence and passion, and with a heightened sense of the commonality of research, tools, methods, obstacles, opportunities, contacts between the “Ag and Industrial” bio worlds and the classic biopharmaceutical/biomedical. There’s new significance to me now of big BIO’s tag line “Healing, fueling and feeding the world.”
The exciting promise of ag bio is headline news, as the therapeutic antibodies administered to two recovered ebola infected American health workers were produced by a tobacco plant. The world is indeed facing extraordinary challenges and opportunities in human health and biomedicine. So, too, we have enormous challenges and opportunities for feeding the human family, and for providing the means to affordable, practical, sustainable power across the globe and across the generations.
In the months and years ahead I hope to work in new ways with our universities and researchers in the Ag and Industrial areas, as well as with large company partners and small spinout startups, and our state policy makers to better interweave the fields in our community, providing additional resources and new opportunities to all.