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The words “biotechnology” and “biotech” are often used by the press and industry observers in very limited and inconsistent ways. Those words may be used to describe only pharmaceutical products, or in another context only the industry surrounding genetically modified plants, while in yet another context a combination of biofuels, plastics, chemicals, and plant extracts. The total economic value of biotechnology companies is therefore difficult to assess, and it is challenging to disentagle the component of revenue due each to public and private firms.

Estimates of total revenues range from US$ 80 to 150 billion annually, where the specific dollar
value depends strongly on which set of products are included. The various surveys that provide this
information differ not only in their classification of companies, but also in methodology, which in
the case of data summarized by private consulting firms is not always available for scrutiny. Further complicating the situation is that results from private companies are self-reported and there are no
publicly available documents that can be used for independent verification. One estimate, based on
data from 2004 (explicitly excluding agricultural, industrial, and environmental biotech firms), suggested approximately 85% of all “biotech” companies are private, accounting for a bit less than 50% of employment in the sector and 27% of revenues.

These numbers are explored in more detail in this report, but a rough summary is as follows: As of 2006, biotech drugs accounted for about US$ 65 billion in sales worldwide, with about 85% of that in the U.S. Genetically modified crops accounted for another US$ 6 billion, with industrial applications
(including fuels, chemicals, materials, reagents, and services) contributing another US$ 50-80 billion,
depending on who is counting and how. Annual growth rates over the last decade appear to be 15-
20% for medical and industrial applications, and 10% for agricultural applications. After sifting
through many different sets of numbers, bio-era estimates that revenues within the U.S. are presently
about US$125 billion, or approximately 1% of GDP, and growing at a rate of 15-20% annually.