Pentagon seeks to speed up biotech research

The Pentagon is looking for a 10-fold reduction in time and cost to create new medicines and materials and has awarded $17.8 million in grants to make that happen.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's research and development program Living Foundries wants to significantly compress the cycle in which engineering a new biologically manufactured product often takes seven or more years and "tens to hundreds of millions of dollars," reports Nextgov.

For example, if scientists had basic synthetic protein structures, they wouldn't have to harvest naturally occurring genes, speeding up the cycle in which new vaccines could be genetically created, according to the article.

It's looking for standardization, adding an "engineering framework to biology" that can "introduce new architectures and tools" into the process, according to Wired. "Think of it like an assembly line, but one that would churn out modified biological matter--man-made organisms--instead of cars or computer parts," Wired's Katie Drummond writes.

The initial awards: $4 million to the J. Craig Venter Institute in Maryland; $3.7 million to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; $3.2 million to Stanford University; $2.2 million to the California Institute of Technology; $1 million to the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution in Florida; $910,000 to Harvard University; and $690,000 to the University of Texas at Austin.

The agency is asking researchers to "compress the biological design-build-test cycle by at least 10X in both time and cost," while also "increasing the complexity of systems that can be designed and executed."

All the grant winners must adhere to national guidance covering the manipulation of genes and organisms, and for biosafety and biosecurity, reports GenomeWeb.

To learn more:
- read the Nextgov article
- here's the request for proposals
- check out the Wired article
- read the GenomeWeb article

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