If you’re like most companies, you probably don’t have a Chief Biology Officer. But if you want to stay competitive and drive innovation, you will.
Your Chief Biology Officer will help you make sense of the impact of biotechnology on your business. Synthetic biology – the use of biological processes for manufacturing – is experiencing massive growth. Advances in computation, automation, and biology already deliver faster, cheaper, and more sustainable solutions.
Your Chief Biology Officer will help you identify vendors that use sustainable biological manufacturing, secure supply chains, and completely transform your business.
This isn’t science fiction. It’s not something you need to consider in three-to-five years. You need to add biotechnology to your business today.
Two years ago, when Karl Schmieder and I published What’s Your Bio-Strategy?, we started planning our next book. The working title was Who’s Your Chief Biology Officer? At the time, that book felt too early. Karl and I both got busy on other projects, and time quickly passed.
Now, the COVID-19 pandemic has turned everyone into amateur biologists.
As of July 2020, the US government invested nearly $6 billion in COVID-19 medical research and development. That funding supports organizations focused on vaccine, therapeutics, and diagnostics development. That money is also funding advanced manufacturing and distribution. Similar investments have been deployed in Europe and across Asia.
The knowledge we gain from the race to stop the pandemic is accelerating biotechnologies that will not only change the practice of healthcare, but business in general. During the first half of 2020:
- $13 billion in private investment poured into biotechnology funds, above and beyond government funding
- Food startups Impossible Foods and Perfect Day raised hundreds of millions to create animal-free meat and dairy products,
- Ingredients producer Geltor raised $91 million to brew high-performance ingredients for cosmetics and nutrition, and
- Bio-materials companies Checkerspot, Lygos, Cambium Biomaterials, and Zymergen released greener composite materials that will find their way into skis, cars, aerospace, mobile phones, and other advanced applications.
If you are a company that isn’t tracking biology’s impact on your industry, you will be left behind.
Enter the Chief Biology Officer
Companies in every industry need an expert who can provide biological knowledge immediately. A team player who knows the biotechnology ecosystem understands which vendors can design an organism, outsource fermentation, scale manufacturing, or secure a supply chain with sustainable ingredients. An expert who understands biotechnology and the competitive advantages it will confer today and in the future.
That expert is the Chief Biology Officer.
In the beginning, your Chief Biology Officer will help your CEO identify the low-hanging fruit that will transform your company. These can include identifying organism design and fermentation partners, localizing bio-manufacturing, and building bio-based supply chains. Your Chief Biology Officer also will serve as a bio-strategist and evangelist, helping your company understand how biology can drive sustainable growth.
Over time, the Chief Biology Officer will need to build a team to implement your company’s “biologicalization.”
Who Qualifies as Chief Biology Officer?
If you do a Google search for “chief biology officer” today, you’ll find only a handful of results. That doesn’t mean the professionals who can take on this role don’t exist. It just means the role hasn’t been formalized.
When you start looking for your first Chief Biology Officer, look for someone who can see the big picture, is forward-thinking, and can do three things:
- Help you and your team solve problems that involve biotechnology today.
- Identify areas where biology can help you in the near future.
- Develop a visionary plan for your company that includes long-term thinking and out-of-the-box planning.
The person you hire as a Chief Biology Officer should have already worked at biotech companies and have experience in your industry. That means they’ll have years of experience observing the industry, following trends, and understanding patterns and how they apply to your company.
Like the other people in your C-suite, your Chief Biology Officer needs that big picture vision and skillset and the ability to help manage implementation teams.
Still Not Convinced?
In June, McKinsey Research issued a report that looked at the impact of biological innovation on products in the pipeline today. The McKinsey team concluded those 400 applications could have a direct global impact of up to $4 trillion per year for the next 10-20 years. That number is likely conservative, given that biotechnology is an enabling technology advancing at an exponential rate.
Without a Chief Biology Officer on your team, you will likely not know what opportunities exist for biology in your company today. Nor will you be able to develop a vision for biotechnology in your company tomorrow.
In the early 2000s, the Chief Technology Officer didn’t exist. Today, no company is competitive without a C-suite level technologist. We’ll soon say the same thing about the Chief Biology Officer.
Subscribe to my weekly synthetic biology newsletter. Thank you to Karl Schmieder of messagingLAB for additional research and reporting in this article. I’m the founder of SynBioBeta, and some of the companies that I write about are sponsors of the SynBioBeta 2020 Global Synthetic Biology Summit.
Originally published on Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/johncumbers/2020/09/16/could-a-chief-biology-officer-make-your-company-more-profitable/0