At last week’s BIO International Conference in Chicago, I had the chance to sit down to lunch with former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. It was a fairly intimate gathering with about 2,000 colleagues (just guessing). Quite honestly, I was in the nose-bleed section, but it was still a memorable opportunity. Click to read the offical news release.
This is not a political blog, so what did two past presidents who had led the USA for most of the past two decades have to do with biotechnology?
The connection was not immediately obvious, as the discussion certainly did not focus solely on biotech. The moderator, BIO President & CEO James Greenwood, simply asked each of the presidents to comment on a series of topics with global implications including their joint effort to help Haiti, the plight of AIDS in Africa, the threats of terrorism around the world, the problems of depending on oil and coal as our primary energy source, the need to increase food supply to meet the needs of increasing global population, etc.
(Each of the topics that was discussed could have been approached with a political point of view, but the beauty of the setting was that the two past presidents simply expressed their opinions in an open and relaxed setting. Both former Presidents were thoughtful and interesting. As the event was closed to the press – and I am not a reporter – I won’t attempt to recreate the entire conversation.)
A common theme though, most clearly expressed by President Bush at one point, was that many of the political and social conflicts that we witness are the result of a lack of hope. In my own words, his point seemed to be that the members of any society that lack the necessities of a quality existence – food, health, security, livelihood, and freedom – are not able to fulfil their potential, even to the point of becoming desperate and hostile.
Biotechnology is subtly positioned then as a needed source of hope – through increasing the hardiness and yields of food crops in countries where food supplies are stretched; by discovering new biopharmaceuticals that can treat diseases that are often overlooked in richer nations; and in creating sustainable supplies of energy that reduce dependency on foreign supplies of energy.
These biotech-based solutions – still years off in some cases – will certainly not solve all the world’s problems, but the areas in which biotech is expected to have the greatest impact in the future – food, health and energy – are certainly critical to any nation’s well being and their ability to provide hope for the future of their citizens.
On the lighter side, doesn’t this theme of “hope” seem especially fitting within the biotech industry?
Because after all, isn’t the entire biotech industry based hope? The hope of a better future for the biotech professionals, business leaders and investors involved? The men and women who devote their careers to the biotech field often have to maintain hope over many, many years before even the best ideas become a commercial success.
Of course, as more and more products and companies show the impact that biotechnology can have, the prospects of future breakthroughs and successes help to feed the hope that the efforts and risks are all worthwhile.
(As a final nod to this year’s BIO convention, I thought I should mention that the Wednesday luncheon featured former Vice President Al Gore discussing climate change. As it seems virtually impossible to discuss that topic in a public forum without it becomming political, I’ll have to leave it alone within this blog…)