Pentagon wants to compress biotech research cycle

The Pentagon has awarded $17.8 million in grants in an effort to significantly reduce the time and cost necessary to engineer new biologically manufactured products.

Living Foundries, the research and development program for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is attempting to foster a 10-fold compression of the cycle for creating new medicines and materials. Most new biologically manufactured products take seven or more years and as much as hundreds of millions of dollars, NextGov reports.

Scientists would not need to harvest naturally occurring genes if they had basic synthetic protein structures. Such an advance would speed up the cycle for genetically creating new vaccines. Adding an engineering framework to biology with new tools and architecture could churn out biological matter like a factory, Wired reports.

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

"(The grant looks 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," the agency said, according to NextGov.

Grant winners must adhere to biosafety and biosecurity national guidelines for the manipulation of organisms and genes, GenomeWeb reports.