DARPA Meeting Looks at Biotech's Promise

"In areas such as memory enhancement, real-time health monitoring, living materials, and brain-machine interfaces, the barriers to entry are numerous, and many investors are hesitant to take a risk on an unproven idea. In pursuing its mission of gaining a deep understanding of new technologies' function and potential, DARPA eliminates many of those barriers and much of the risk," said Justin Sanchez, director of DARPA's Biological Technologies Office.

A meeting last week in Menlo Park, Calif., "lays the foundation for a new generation of biotech ventures," DARPA reported Sept. 18. DARPA's Biological Technologies Office (BTO) hosted it, and the "Biotech Startups of the Future" event focused on identifying ways to speed innovations from the lab to patients, consumers, and national security practitioners, showcasing some of BTO's current programs and research results, including work in synthetic biology, gene editing, personalized medicine, infectious disease management, and neurotechnology.

BTO brought together DARPA-funded researchers to describe their research and results, including speakers from Ecovative; Phylagen; MIT Broad Foundry for Synthetic Biology; Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School; Seromics, Inc.; RenBio, Inc.; National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories, Boston University; Emulate, Inc.; Profusa; University of California, San Francisco; University of California, Los Angeles; Starfish Prosthetics Foundation; Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory; and Teledyne Scientific & Imaging, according to the agency's news release.

"Biotechnology is a 21st century science with the potential to transform the national security landscape and spark the industries of the future, much as aerospace engineering, materials science, microelectronics, and computer and information science shaped the late 20th century," said Justin Sanchez, director of BTO. "DARPA's work in this space has been extremely productive, but moving from technology demonstration to application and maintaining the United States' first-mover advantage requires the larger science and technology ecosystem to be involved. DARPA and its colleagues across academia, industry, and the investment community must work together to investigate, refine, and develop innovations so that they benefit society at large."

"In areas such as memory enhancement, real-time health monitoring, living materials, and brain-machine interfaces, the barriers to entry are numerous, and many investors are hesitant to take a risk on an unproven idea. In pursuing its mission of gaining a deep understanding of new technologies' function and potential, DARPA eliminates many of those barriers and much of the risk," he added.

Talks during the event included one titled "Creating a Pandemic-free World," and the release described it as "focused on DARPA's vision of distributed healthcare that combines technology to detect pandemic outbreaks, rapidly identify and grow potent antibodies to fight infectious disease, and response tools for creating a pandemic firebreak." Another was "Immunity on Demand," which focused on developing and delivering nucleic-acid-based protections against infectious disease.

DARPA held a similar meeting in 2016.

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