February 01, 2012

Global health R&D in the US: Georgia at the crossroads

Program Manager, Global Health R&D Advocacy

Research!America, a member of the GHTC, recently conducted analyses across a select group of target states to measure the health and economic impact of global health research and development (R&D), highlighting its benefits for states across the nation and strengthening the evidence base for Congress’ support of federal investments in global health R&D. Danielle Doughman, program manager for global health R&D advocacy, shares the organization’s findings in Georgia. This post is the second in a series in which Research!America will profile various states from around the country.

Is Atlanta the next Seattle or Geneva? With continued federal investment, the global health community may soon be talking about Atlanta, Georgia, as one of the new global health capitals of the world.

On many measures, Georgia—and its capital city in particular—is at the crossroads of global health. Bioscience is one of the state's fastest-growing industries; from 2001 to 2005, the number of Georgia bioscience firms grew by 38 percent, versus 13 percent in other industries. The state is home to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which employs more than 15,000 people. The CDC, in partnership with the Department of Defense (DoD), was also the first to identify the H1N1 flu virus in its Atlanta labs, working closely with its international partners to limit the virus’ spread. Georgia’s world-class universities keep a steady stream of scientific talent flowing to the state’s public- and private-sector health industries.

In 2010, Georgia received more then $433 through NIH for research, which helped create 6,700 new jobs in the state. Photo: Evelyn Hockstein/PATH.

The Georgia Research Alliance (GRA) brings together Georgia's research universities, business community, and state government to create opportunities to grow Georgia's economy through scientific discovery. GRA has also been instrumental in recruiting top researchers to the state, including renowned scientist Rafi Ahmed to the Emory Vaccine Center. The creation of the Vaccine Center in turned spurred the creation of new private industry. Smyrna’s GeoVax is an HIV vaccine R&D company, which in turn conducts research with contracts from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

And Georgians increasingly recognize the health and economic value such research brings to the state. According to a June 2011 poll, 74 percent of Georgians think global health research is important to the state’s economy, especially in terms of jobs and incomes. And they’re right: in 2010, Georgia received more than $433 million in federal funds from the NIH for research. In turn, this helped create 6,700 new jobs in the state. Plus, research jobs typically pay well above the average annual salary.

Georgians are also concerned about military health. A full 87 percent said that they are concerned about the military’s exposure to diseases overseas, and slightly more (88 percent) recognize that civilians also benefit from such health research. Funding for the CDC and the DoD allow research on infectious diseases and biosecurity to keep Georgia’s 100,000 military personnel—and their families—safe.

However, while Georgia ranks ninth in population, it ranks just 15th in federal R&D funding. There is tremendous potential to grow the R&D enterprise in Georgia, and to contribute to the long-term investment that this sector brings for Georgia’s economy. Strong federal support for the US agencies working to improve our health and economy with evidence-based science is needed. Investment in global health R&D is not only the right thing to do for the world, it’s also the smart thing to do for Georgia.

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