LEADING IN BIOTECHNOLOGY RESEARCH & INNOVATION
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.