You might be surprised to know that Indiana is in the top five among all states in employment in the life sciences, or that only two states — California and Texas — have more life sciences exports than Indiana, or that more people in Indiana work in life sciences than in the automobile industry.
Yes, the life sciences are Indiana’s greatest economic success story of recent times. But Indiana’s continued leadership in life sciences is in serious jeopardy. We can’t afford to squander the advantage we’ve created. We need to take action — now.
For all our progress in the life sciences, regions across the U.S. and around the world have their eyes on the same goal, even as some of our strongest competitors are taking further bold steps to distance themselves from the pack.
Building on the success we’ve achieved will require a far larger — and much more ambitious — shared effort among Indiana’s life sciences companies, research universities and state government.
The key question facing us today is: What is it going to take for Indiana to maintain leadership in the life sciences and to compete effectively on the world stage? Let me lay out three imperatives — and at least one bold idea:
The first imperative is a concerted effort to attract and retain the most talented people we can find. This is fundamental to our continued success.
We need to start by focusing on better educating our own citizens. To cite just one relevant indicator, the latest test scores from the U.S. Dept. of Education showed only 33 percent of Indiana 8th graders to be proficient in science. We need a sustained, intense effort in K-12 education to improve performance. We must also ensure that Indiana’s business environment — currently ranked fifth best on Chief Executive magazine’s annual list — remains favorable to new and existing businesses, and supports the creation of good jobs. And we need to continually improve the quality of life for our citizens and to be a welcoming place for those who might consider moving here.
The second imperative is a culture change among our companies and our leading academic institutions in terms of how we see one another and how we work together.
In my view, Indiana’s great research universities — public and private — must embrace the notion that one of their prime functions is to actively assist in the process of translating new knowledge into useful products that serve the larger society. We need an infusion of entrepreneurial spirit into our research universities — more people open to pursuing the applications of their research, working collaboratively with others outside their own walls, including industry, and, yes, even starting companies. This is what we see today in San Francisco, in Boston, in San Diego, but not nearly as much as we should here.
Third, we need the active engagement of Indiana state government — which has been supportive, but too often cheering from the sidelines — as an engaged partner with academia and industry in advancing life sciences in Indiana.
The fact is, our top competitors are moving farther ahead, with initiatives like a Massachusetts program that provides $1 billion in state support for biotechnology, including tax incentives to encourage companies to expand, and grants for research, fellowships and workforce training. Now is the time for the State of Indiana to demonstrate in its own way a commitment to the life sciences to answer the challenge of leading competitors like California, Massachusetts, North Carolina — not to mention numerous other cities, regions and countries around the world.
The bottom line? All of the participants in Indiana’s life sciences need to be as innovative in the ways we work together — across disciplines and across institutions — as in the science we pursue.
Now for the bold idea: creating a world-class life sciences research institute in Indiana. This institute will engage entrepreneurial faculty from leading research universities here and around the world — enabling them to work collaboratively with industry to pursue pioneering research in biotechnology, human health and nutrition.
The Broad Institute in Cambridge, Mass.; the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego; and the Danforth Institute in St. Louis are all good examples of research powerhouses that energize a network of life sciences activity in their respective regions.
Finally and importantly, we need a new perspective and a revamped self-image. For too long, Indiana has seemed to be surprised at our success in life sciences, and our ability to compete with the likes of Boston and San Francisco. It’s time to recognize that we’re a leader, to stand tall, and to be content with nothing less than world-class leadership in this 21st Century industry.
As we act with urgency, let’s also act with confidence and boldness, and deliver an effort that’s worthy of the mid-American crossroads of life sciences — Indiana — and chart a course for even greater success and growth. My own company stands ready to participate and to lend its support.