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As the evolution of medical biotechnology accelerates, the scope of conversations about ethical and safety issues is migrating from the scientific community into society as a whole. Consumers in developed economies are increasingly active in their healthcare choices and solicited for genetically-based products. Consumers in emerging economies may be sceptical of new biotechnology-based diagnostics and treatments given the history of medical research and economically disadvantaged populations. In this context, the Global Future Council on Biotechnology aims to identify policy opportunities capable of accelerating new biotechnological discovery and application while guiding the dialogue with consumers about their implications.