In the keynote address to a conference on Regional Innovation Clusters on Sept. 23, 2010, John C. Lechleiter, Ph.D., chairman, president, and CEO of Eli Lilly, called for federal policies that further encourage regional economic innovation as a key to renewing the nation’s economy. Lechleiter addressed a broad spectrum of policymakers, including members of the Obama administration, at a conference co-hosted by The Brookings Institution, the Center for American Progress, the Council on Competitiveness, and the National Association of Development Organizations.
“Regional innovation clusters are taking root across the country, sharing many common elements but building on the unique strengths and resources of their communities,” said Lechleiter, according to an Eli Lilly press release. “Driven by a combination of civic engagement and enlightened self-interest, leaders from industry, academia, philanthropy, and state and local government are collaborating to create new enterprises, jobs, and economic growth.” He pointed to the success of Indiana’s regional cluster, largely due to the 2002 launch of BioCrossroads, a public–private initiative designed to serve as a regional connector among Indiana’s life-sciences research institutions, corporations, philanthropies, and state government.
Lechleiter pointed to the “micro” role for federal policy as essentially the two-pronged approach outlined in President’s Obama’s 2011 budget: first, identifying and sharing information on successful clusters and their characteristics; and, second, providing grants that support and strengthen clusters to promote economic development and job creation. He said the “macro” role of federal policy should be to create an environment where innovation can thrive. Part of that environment involves fiscal policy. He said that the United States should make the federal R&D tax credit permanent and that the US corporate tax system should better encourage business investment in the US.
“We need a business tax system that levels the playing field for America’s worldwide companies, which currently face a higher corporate tax rate than their global competitors, and, unlike those competitors, must also pay taxes on their foreign earnings. We need a corporate tax system like the rest of the world–one that encourages, rather than discourages, investment in the United States,” he said.
Lechleiter addressed ways to foster innovation as a whole in the US earlier this year, which included some of the same suggestions he has in advancing regional innovation centers: namely, tax policy favoring innovation and building a research infrastructure within academic and government laboratories. He also called for immigration laws that allow and encourage top scientists to choose to work in the US and broad improvement in science and math education in grade schools and high schools.
With respect to improvement science and math education, the Biotechnology Institute, announced earlier this month a new program, “Scientists in the Classroom,” to improve the quality of US life-science education in response to President Obama’s “Educate to Innovate” campaign to improve the performance of America’s students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. The Biotechnology Institute is an independent, national nonprofit organization involved with the present and future impact of biotechnology. The announcement was made at a White House event announcing the creation of a new broad education coalition, “Change the Equation,” which consists of CEOs from various industries.
The Scientists in the Classroom initiative will train and deploy scientists from 40 companies in collaborations with teachers and students on laboratory projects in high schools as a means to advance life-science education at the national and local levels. The program will be launched in communities this fall in 10 states, including California, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania, reaching a run-rate of 1000 life scientists assisting in schools and a goal of having 250,000 high school students from all 50 states in the next five years. With the announcement, the Biotechnology Institute also launched a fundraising campaign to support the initiative with a goal of raising at least $10 million in cash and in-kind contributions during the next two years. The campaign already has received the support of sanofi-aventis, Momenta Pharmaceuticals, Acorda Therapeutics, Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, Sangamo BioSciences, and Vertex Pharmaceuticals. In addition to their support as founding members of the campaign, scientists from these companies will collaborate with high school teachers and students over the coming months to develop life science-focused projects for stimulating students’ interests in scientific careers.
Supporting STEM education and laying a groundwork for businesses to invest more in innovation is always a promising consideration for the bio/pharmaceutical industry. It will be important to watch the progress of this specific program and related policy developments.