Atlanta is on the precipice of an explosion in biotechnology and certainly poised to lead the takeover of the Southeast in biotechnology innovation. I say this with some pride, and I don’t say this lightly. Having spent the last 16 years in this sector, the growth is evident to anyone paying attention. And talent runs deep here. It’s no wonder we are called THE hottest market for Gen Z.
Back in 2006, I worked at Solvay Pharmaceuticals as the Global Clinical Director for CardioMetabolics as well as Business Development and Licensing. Back then, there were few others in town to rival Solvay, with CardioMems and CryoLife rounding out the top three. Emory University was the most active in both bench and clinical trial research as well as tech transfer and brought important contributions to HIV antiretrovirals. Georgia Tech retained its top status as the premier engineering and biotech institute with whom to collaborate, and the Georgia Research Alliance began a rise to prominence, simultaneous to the development of several other smaller networks. And of course the CDC has always been right in our backyards.
However, we remained disconnected and lacked cohesiveness, and our hospital systems, while sprawling, were sleepy and disconnected. Moreover, while many start-ups were beginning right here in Atlanta, they would subsequently leave to blossom to commercialization in other places, like Silicon Valley or Boston. Atlanta was a sleeping giant waiting for its moment.
So how did we get to this biotech boom? Part of the story rests with the diligent work of Georgia Bio in expansion and dedication. The other part of the story rests on individual focus over long periods of time to build the groundwork and do the grunt work. These are people like Lee Herron of the Georgia Research Alliance, Sherry Farrugia at the Global Center for Medical Innovation (GCMI), Michael Fisher at Georgia Tech’s Center for MedTech Excellence, Valerie Montgomery-Rice at Morehouse School of Medicine, innovator and venture capitalist Bob Crutchfield, Georgia’s Tech’s George White, former GCMI head Tiffany Wilson and myself, just to name a few. Heads down, eyes up.
We all worked in our corners, and at Piedmont, I specifically started the Phase I Structural Heart Program. Then I expanded research and clinical trials beyond the satellite facility in Atlanta to Piedmont Fayette, so that more rural populations could be included in the many trials I was rapidly expanding at the time. Next came fleshing out an Innovation Accelerator for licensing opportunities. Piedmont became the No. 1 training facility for mitral and tricuspid transcatheter valve implants because of these early efforts, and experts began traveling to Atlanta to learn and hone these techniques.
Additionally, with serial entrepreneurs such as Jay Yadav of MiRus displaying repeated innovation and commercialization successes, our individual contributions ultimately coalesced into the whole.
Seemingly overnight – but in reality after two decades of drudgery – we are bursting onto the scene with real leadership, vision and financing, poised to dominate the Southeast and rival other areas of the United States. What has changed? For one, many of the networks began working together and forming coalitions. One such network is the Georgia AI Manufacturing (GA-AIM) coalition, which is led by Georgia Tech and includes Spelman College and the Russell Innovation Center for Entrepreneurs.
The GA-AIM coalition was recently awarded a $65-million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) to establish the AI Manufacturing Pilot Facility at Georgia Tech, a hub for research, testing and training in AI systems. Additionally, we have the rapid expansion of the Morehouse School of Medicine in both geography, edifices and footprint, as they just accepted their largest class of incoming medical students ever and have expanded to PAs, Masters and Doctorate programs.
Add to this the forward thinking of the Metro Atlanta Chamber that became connected and committed to diligently recruiting and retaining big biotech companies as well as small ones that ‘became big’ under the leadership of its chief economic officer, David Hartnett. These include Mailchimp, Microsoft, Google, Trident, Boston Scientific’s $62.5-million Innovation hub and Alcon to name a few. Alcon in particular has worked in cooperation with the University of Georgia since 2013 to expand with a $97-million investment.
From Georgia Tech’s Science Square, to Georgia Bio’s Center for Global Health Innovation under the leadership of Maria Thacker Goethe, Atlanta, and Georgia, has begun rapid and exponential growth and commitment in the biotechnology arena. With multiple universities right at our fingertips generating incredible talent from HBCUs, state schools and private universities, Georgia boasts it all. This is an exciting time to be in Georgia and in Atlanta, and now there is no need to venture further.