At BIO, “steady” Georgia doesn’t make a big splash

Officials from the state of Georgia held its first press conference today at the all-important BIO International Convention meeting in town this week.

The press conference was held in the crowed Georgia Pavillion on the exhibit floor where Gov. Sonny Perdue announced that Emory University and the Queensland Institute for Medical Research in Australia are teaming up to create the Queensland-U.S. Vaccine Technology Alliance.

The goal is to establish an international research program leading to the development of new human vaccines for infectuous diseases and cancers.

In all the hub-bub of BIO, it is unclear what kind of ripple that announcement will make among the 15,000 scientists and biomedical leaders in Atlanta from around the world.

Compared to the flashy bio-medical initiatives in several other states, Georgia’s programs and announcements come off as modest.

Last year, when BIO was meeting in San Diego, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was able to brag about his state’s $3 billion, decade-long stem cell research initiatve.
The year before, when BIO was in Boston, Massachussetts was able to highlight a $1 billion biomedical research effort.

It’s hard for a state to compete when such big numbers are being thrown around like confetti.

But Michael Cassidy, president of the Georgia Research Alliance, said those billion dollar programs probably should be looked at more closely. Given the financial struggles in most states, will those efforts be sustained and implemented?

“We have had announcements that have happened over time,” Cassidy said of Georgia bio-tech and research initiatives. “We have invested about half a billion dollars over the past 20 years. And the Georgia Cancer Coalition is getting close to a half billion dollars. So over 20 years we have invested about $1 billion in these fields.”

In fact at last week’s Georgia Research Alliance board meeting, a report was given showing that GRA has invested $476 million, and that investment has led to a return of $2.6 billion — primarily in research funding.

“We are not a big splash kind of place,” Cassidy said. “We believe in investing steadily and continuously.”

But because of Georgia’s low-key approach, I question whether Gov. Perdue would have been named BIO governor of the year had the mega international convention been anyplace else.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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