State govern­ment sup­port has helped put Ge­or­gia on the front­line of med­i­cal sci­ence


When Pres­i­dent Jimmy Carter, one of Ge­or­gia’s most fa­mous sons, was di­ag­nosed with metastatic melanoma in 2015, he did not need to travel far.

“I didn’t have to leave Ge­or­gia to get ad­vanced, life-sav­ing treat­ments,” Pres­i­dent Carter said af­ter be­ing given the all-clear at the Win­ship Cancer In­sti­tute at Emory Univer­sity in At­lanta. “I have ben­e­fited from bet­ter de­tec­tion tech­nol­ogy and treat­ments that did not ex­ist a few years ago. Win­ship has been on the front­line of th­ese break­throughs.”

The ef­fec­tive­ness of Carter’s treat­ment in the state has high­lighted Ge­or­gia’s role as a pi­o­neer in cancer re­search and as a na­tional pow­er­house in med­i­cal sci­ence.

“Three quar­ters of all cancer treat­ments that have been de­vel­oped over the last five to ten years have been tri­aled here at Emory,” says Dr. Jonathan Lewin, CEO of Emory Health­care. “Our re­search has im­pacted lives both within Emory Health­care and far beyond.”

Ge­or­gia’s emer­gence as a na­tional and global health­care leader is no ac­ci­dent. It is the di­rect re­sult of decades of close part­ner­ship between health­care pro­fes­sion­als, state au­thor­i­ties and academia. One of the world’s lead­ing in­sti­tu­tions in vac­cine re­search, the Emory Vac­cine Cen­tre owes its ex­is­tence to the Ge­or­gia Re­search Al­liance (GRA), a part­ner­ship between the Univer­sity Sys­tem of Ge­or­gia and the state’s Depart­ment of Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment. The GRA is ded­i­cated to ex­pand­ing Ge­or­gia’s univer­sity re­search ca­pac­ity, by re­cruit­ing world-class sci­en­tists to the state, in­vest­ing in cut­ting-edge re­search tech­nol­ogy, help­ing to com­mer­cial­ize univer­sity dis­cov­er­ies and in­ven­tions, and cre­at­ing al­liances between academia and in­dus­try.

The GRA es­ti­mates that it has trans­formed $595 mil­lion of state spend­ing on tech­nol­ogy and lead­ing sci­en­tists into more than $3 bil­lion of ad­di­tional out­side in­vest­ment in Ge­or­gia. The GRA’S ven­ture cap­i­tal arm cur­rently sup­ports 150 univer­sity-based com­pa­nies, or­ga­niz­ing men­tor­ing and pro­vid­ing low-in­ter­est loans and grants to help bring new tech­nolo­gies to mar­ket. Many of the funds for sup­port­ing start-ups come from pri­vate donors, Lee Her­ron, VP of Ven­ture De­vel­op­ment at the Al­liance ex­plains. “At­lanta is a strongly phil­an­thropic town and many of the com­pa­nies here are headed by folks who love to give back to the com­mu­nity. The GRA is very ac­tive in match­ing funds from th­ese donors with state funds to drive eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment.” Paula Vertino, PHD leads a cancer re­search team

“I am very proud of the na­tional reach of the re­search con­ducted at cam­pus,” Dr. Lewin at Emory says. “We are run­ning thou­sands of clin­i­cal tri­als where pa­tients who have com­plex dis­eases are of­fered op­tions that they can’t get any­where else.”

Such is the depth of med­i­cal ex­per­tise in the state that the Na­tional Sci­ence Foun­da­tion has cho­sen Ge­or­gia Tech to lead the de­vel­op­ment of a $20 mil­lion Re­search Cen­ter for Cell Man­u­fac­tur­ing Tech­nolo­gies. The cen­ter has the po­ten­tial to trans­form the treat­ment of cancer, heart dis­ease, au­toim­mune dis­eases and other dis­or­ders by re­search­ing in­no­va­tive ther­a­pies based on the use of liv­ing cells such as im­mune cells and stem cells.

“Ge­or­gia Tech has a long his­tory of build­ing col­lab­o­ra­tive part­ner­ships with in­dus­try, the na­tional labs and other re­search uni­ver­si­ties,” Ge­or­gia Tech Pres­i­dent G. P. “Bud” Peter­son said when the fund­ing was an­nounced. “The Cen­ter for Cell Man­u­fac­tur­ing Tech­nolo­gies will also help us ed­u­cate, train and pre­pare the work­force in a new in­dus­try, thereby con­tin­u­ing to strengthen the U.S. econ­omy.”

“The re­search uni­ver­si­ties that we have in Ge­or­gia are sec­ond to none,” says the state’s Lieu­tenant Gover­nor, Casey Ca­gle. “They are a ma­jor part of an ecosys­tem here which fos­ters new tech­nol­ogy and in­no­va­tion and which launches new com­pa­nies and en­trepreneurs.”

To help in­no­va­tors in high tech­nol­ogy sec­tors such as health­care, and help them bring their dis­cov­er­ies and in­ven­tions to mar­ket, Ca­gle has es­tab­lished Start Ge­or­gia, a statewide net­work of in­cu­ba­tors, ac­cel­er­a­tors and in­vestors. “I am con­tin­u­ally fo­cused on grow­ing new tech­nolo­gies and de­vel­op­ing new in­dus­tries in the state of Ge­or­gia,” Ca­gle says.

Ge­or­gia re­searchers are work­ing to­gether to fight cancer & other dis­eases at home & abroad

For Ge­or­gia’s med­i­cal re­search in­sti­tu­tions, the road to suc­cess­ful tri­als and drug de­vel­op­ments passes through part­ner­ship and col­lab­o­ra­tion. For 10 years, Emory Univer­sity, More­house School of Medicine and the Ge­or­gia In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy have worked to­gether on clin­i­cal re­search in the shape of the At­lanta Clin­i­cal & Trans­la­tional Sci­ence In­sti­tute: this Septem­ber, the al­liance gained a new mem­ber, the Univer­sity of Ge­or­gia and changed its name to the Ge­or­gia Clin­i­cal & Trans­la­tional Sci­ence Al­liance.

Ge­or­gia Tech and Emory Univer­sity also col­lab­o­rate closely on a range of med­i­cal re­search ini­tia­tives. They run the nº 1-ranked Wal­lace H. Coul­ter Depart­ment of Biomed­i­cal En­gi­neer­ing, which is tack­ling de­bil­i­tat­ing con­di­tions such as Parkin­son’s, Alzheimer’s, cancer, arthri­tis, car­dio­vas­cu­lar and neu­ro­log­i­cal dis­eases, and im­mune dis­or­ders.

Uni­ver­si­ties in Ge­or­gia are also work­ing closely with the 104-year-old Amer­i­can Cancer So­ci­ety, which is head­quar­tered in At­lanta and is one of the coun­try’s largest pri­vate fun­ders of cancer re­search. “With Ge­or­gia Tech and the Univer­sity of Ge­or­gia, we are com­bin­ing our col­lec­tive knowl­edge and in­tel­li­gence here in At­lanta to cre­ate a re­search plat­form cen­tered on im­munother­apy,” says Gary Reedy, Pres­i­dent and CEO of the Amer­i­can Cancer So­ci­ety. “We are so for­tu­nate to be able to reach out to th­ese uni­ver­si­ties and med­i­cal cen­ters right here in Ge­or­gia.”

An­other suc­cess­ful pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ship that is driv­ing health­care in­no­va­tion in the state is the Ge­or­gia Cen­ter for On­col­ogy Re­search and Ed­u­ca­tion (Ge­or­gia CORE). Ge­or­gia CORE’S mis­sion is to im­prove the qual­ity of cancer care in Ge­or­gia by strength­en­ing clin­i­cal re­search into cancer, based on in­vest­ment from in­dus­try, foun­da­tions, and govern­ment. As well as un­der­tak­ing ex­ten­sive clin­i­cal tri­als and cancer re­search, Ge­or­gia CORE car­ries out ge­netic screen­ing for hered­i­tary breast and ovar­ian cancer in pub­lic health cen­ters all over Ge­or­gia and runs pro­grams to ad­dress the needs of cancer sur­vivors in the state.

“We have great biotech in­fra­struc­ture in At­lanta and there are ex­cep­tional cancer cen­ters all across the state,” says Nancy Paris, Pres­i­dent and CEO of Ge­or­gia CORE. “More than 80% of the care is pro­vided in com­mu­nity cancer cen­ters, not in the aca­demic cen­ters. We foster suc­cess through col­lab­o­ra­tion, shared re­sources, and the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of emerg­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties that wouldn’t nec­es­sar­ily be pos­si­ble for one cen­ter or doc­tor to do on their own.”

One of the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s pri­or­i­ties is to im­prove ac­cess to care and re­search for mi­nori­ties and un­der­served com­mu­ni­ties and in­crease the in­volve­ment of mi­nor­ity pop­u­la­tions in tri­als. As a re­sult, in Ge­or­gia CORE’S cur­rent re­search pro­gram, about 25% of en­rollees are mi­nori­ties, in con­trast to a na­tional av­er­age of just 5%.

“One of our great­est suc­cess sto­ries is that we can reach re­mote ar­eas of the state,” Paris says. “By get­ting racial and eth­nic mi­nori­ties and ru­ral pop­u­la­tions in­volved in our stud­ies we have de­liv­ered some­thing of great value na­tion­ally and in­ter­na­tion­ally.”

As well as putting Ge­or­gia on the front­line of in­ter­na­tional life sci­ences, the state’s world-lead­ing uni­ver­si­ties, hospi­tals and re­search in­sti­tu­tions have trans­formed it into one of the coun­try’s main pro­duc­ers of new med­i­cal tal­ent. At Emory, Dr. Lewin es­ti­mates that one third of grad­u­ates from med­i­cal school stay in the state to work. “We are gen­er­at­ing tal­ent at an impressive rate. While we are de­lighted that we keep the best of the best here in Ge­or­gia, a big part of our mis­sion is to train ex­perts and then send them around the world.”

It is not only uni­ver­si­ties and char­i­ties in the state that are lead­ing the fight against dis­ease. Since 1946, At­lanta has housed the fed­eral govern­ment agency which is now known as the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion (CDC), one of the world’s lead­ing med­i­cal sci­ence in­sti­tu­tions. The cen­ter’s seven di­vi­sions work with part­ners through­out the US and around the world to pre­vent ill­ness, dis­abil­ity and death caused by in­fec­tious dis­eases.

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