Atlanta can become Silicon Valley of biotechnology

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.

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. The United States grew from an almost insignificant “start-up” to the most successful nation on the planet in barely more than a century.

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.

We believe that by embracing this vision, 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, encouraged competition and strictly adhered to a policy of noninterference in the pioneering firms it helped.

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 — specifically, the Atlanta area — will rise to the occasion.

We have just finished moving Galectin Therapeutics to Atlanta. Galectin is a biotech company working toward cures for cancer and liver and kidney fibrosis. The area’s pro-business, pro-biotech ecosystem made our decision easy. The Advanced Technology Development Center at Georgia Tech, named by Forbes one of the world’s top “incubators” for business, is a crown jewel. There’s also UGA’s Complex Carbohydrate Research Center, the Emory School of Medicine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Georgia’s “business friendliness.”

These investments make Georgia one of only a handful of states capable of becoming a Silicon Valley-like environment for biotech.

If Atlanta is to become the biotech Silicon Valley, its universities must produce and encourage innovators the same way Stanford has pioneered in California.

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 youth of the world choose an advanced degree, a place of business and a permanent home in America. Why should we let these inventors build up Bangalore, Brussels and Beijing when they long to live and contribute right here?

Above all, government must stop viewing medicine as a budget item to cut rather than people who need to be cured. Today’s public and private bureaucrats see healing people as a burden to the system.

When companies like Galectin Therapeutics discover breakthrough cures, millions of lives and billions of dollars will be saved. Cancer and liver disease are expensive to treat, but that cost disappears with cures.

The world needs a biotech Silicon Valley. We believe that Atlanta is perfectly poised to become just that.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

Gilbert F. Amelio, former CEO of Apple Computer and a director of AT&T, is a member of Galectin Therapeutics’ board of directors. Rod Martin is vice chairman of Galectin.

X