In a speech before the Detroit Economic Club last week, John C. Lechleiter, chairman, president, and CEO of Eli Lilly, addressed what he regards as declining competitive scientific advantage in the US and the policies that he thinks are important for the US not to lose its position in the life sciences.
While the “US is the undisputed leader in medical advances,” he said, he cautioned against the “danger that we are losing what has been America’s greatest competitive advantage: our genius for innovation….Despite all this progress, despite all these gains, the evidence is mounting that we are facing today nothing short of an innovation crisis in America’s life-sciences sector.”
He cited a study by the think tank, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, which ranked the US sixth among the top 40 industrialized nations in innovative-based competitiveness (Singapore, Sweden, Luxembourg, Denmark, and South Korea ranked first through fifth, respectively), but which rated the US last, or 40th among 40 industrialized countries, in what these countries are doing to become more innovative in the future. The study was based on 16 metrics based on indicators involving human capital, innovation capacity, entrepreneurship, information-technology infrastructure, economic policy, and economic performance to evaluate current and future global innovation-based competitiveness.
Lechleiter outlined four policies that he thinks are necessary to sustain and build innovation in the US:
• Broad improvement in science and math education in grade schools and high schools
• Immigration laws that allow and encourage top scientists to choose to work in the US
• A well-funded basic research infrastructure within academic and government laboratories
• Tax policy that fosters innovation, which would include: making the federal research and development tax credit permanent; a federal investment tax credit to provide early-stage financing of innovation-based companies; and the adoption of tax and economic incentives to boost manufacturing and export-related job growth.
Starting a dialogue on tangible ways in which scientific innovation can be fostered is valuable, but too often it is a debate that does not receive the amount of attention that it deserves. Of course, in theory, no one is against using science as a tool for economic advancement. But the devil is in the details, and the approaches, not just in public policy, but also in business strategy and practices, need to be examined to assess how to best mutually support the goal of increasing innovation-based competitiveness.