by Gilbert F. Amelio and Rod D. Martin
April 3, 2013
America’s Founders sought to unleash the creative energies of every citizen, not just the privileged few. They created a system designed to encourage and protect commerce and innovation; and indeed, many of them were entrepreneurs and inventors themselves.
Alexis de Tocqueville described the new nation essentially as a classless society, wherein all were treated equally and individuals rose by merit. Though imperfectly applied to some, the difference between Tocqueville’s America and the rest of the world, in his time or ours, was and remains as daylight and dark. And the results were staggering: the United States grew from an almost insignificant “start-up” to the most successful nation on the planet in barely more than a century. Never before nor since has the world witnessed such accomplishment.
America, then and now, has birthed virtually every important industrial innovation. It is our unique culture of liberty that has incubated this unparalleled inventiveness, a freedom unfettered by government intervention and control. But this is no case for anarchism. Indeed, the Founders rejected the old Articles of Confederation and created our Constitutional system precisely because government can be such a powerful friend to freedom, eliminating trade barriers, establishing standards of justice, securing both real and intellectual property, and generally encouraging competition, productivity and innovation wherever possible.
We believe that embracing this vision, building on an already promising foundation, the Atlanta region can become the “Silicon Valley” for the cutting edge of 21st Century science: curing the big diseases of our time.
Today when we think of Silicon Valley we think of Intel, Apple and PayPal; but in the beginning, it was government, particularly the Pentagon, that sponsored foundational research in semiconductors at universities and corporate labs, while encouraging competition and strictly adhering to a policy of noninterference in the inner workings of the pioneering firms they helped.
This was not new in America. Decades earlier, similar policies brought about U.S. dominance in aviation. Earlier still, Abraham Lincoln’s vision – made reality through the Transcontinental Railroad Act and the Homestead Act – united and settled a vast, nearly-empty continent in barely a generation.
Today, biotechnology and the life sciences are primed and ready to transform our world as railroads, aircraft and semiconductors did before them. The question is whether we – and specifically the Atlanta area – will rise to that awesome occasion.
Though our backgrounds are in Silicon Valley, we have just finished moving Galectin Therapeutics, a biotech company working diligently toward cures for cancer and liver and kidney fibrosis, to Atlanta. The area’s pro-business, pro-biotech ecosystem made our decision easy: The Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC), named by Forbes one of the world’s top “incubators” for business, is by itself a crown jewel; but there’s also UGA’s Complex Carbohydrate Research Center; Georgia Tech; the Emory School of Medicine; the Centers for Disease Control; and perhaps most important, Georgia’s sixth-in-the-nation ranking for “business friendliness”.
Together, these investments make Georgia one of only a handful of states capable of becoming a Silicon Valley-like environment for biotech.
The excellence of the universities is key. It is no coincidence that California boasts the highest percentage of tech entrepreneurs who established a startup in the state where they earned their degree. If Atlanta is to become the biotech Silicon Valley, Georgia’s universities must produce and encourage innovators in the same revolutionary ways Stanford has pioneered.
Also as in Silicon Valley, many of those graduates must be from overseas. As Washington again eyes immigration reform, Georgia’s Congressional delegation should push to let the brilliant youth of the world choose an advanced degree, a place of business, and a permanent home in America. While giving entry to every unskilled farm worker, our immigration laws perversely choke off the world’s best talent from adding to – and multiplying – our economy. Why should we let these inventors of the future build up Bangalore, Brussels and Beijing when they long to live and contribute right here, like Fulton, Carnegie, and Einstein before them?
Above all, government must stop viewing medicine as a budget item to cut rather than people who need to be cured. Military priorities ensured that semiconductor research continued. Today’s public and private bureaucrats see healing people as a burden to the system. Georgia’s leaders must reject this, re-humanizing health care.
Research is not a “cost”. When companies like Galectin Therapeutics discover breakthrough cures, millions of lives and billions of dollars will be saved: there’s a reason we don’t worry about the cost of TB colonies, or of iron lungs, or of lives crippled by polio. Cancer and liver disease are indeed expensive to treat, but that cost disappears with the advent of a cure.
The cure is cheaper than the care!
The world needs a biotech Silicon Valley. We believe that Atlanta is perfectly poised to become just that. We’ve bet our company on it.
Gil Amelio is the former CEO of Apple Computer and a director of AT&T, a member of Galectin Therapeutics’ board of directors and former director of Chiron. He received his B.S., M.A., & Ph.D. in physics from Georgia Tech. He is a cancer survivor.
Rod Martin, CEO of The Martin Organization, is Vice Chairman of Galectin Therapeutics, was a senior member of PayPal.com’s pre-IPO startup team, former policy director to Governor Mike Huckabee, and President of the National Federation of Republican Assemblies. He is online at RodMartin.org.
Editor’s Note: This article by Gil Amelio and Rod D. Martin first appeared in the Atlanta Journal Constitution. We encourage you to visit the original.