Why investing in places like Birmingham, Alabama is key to securing U.S. biotech dominance as China tries to close the gap

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Breakthroughs in biotechnology hold the potential to transform lives for patients and families in search of treatments and cures while generating economic growth and creating high-impact jobs. Developing pathways to personalized healthcare options for all Americans is a critical frontier in research and development. Moreover, American leadership in a dynamic, global bioeconomy is critical to our national security. While America has been the world leader in health innovation to date, our economic competitiveness is threatened by ambitious investments made by China to rapidly advance its own biotech agenda.

For years, China has invested heavily in efforts to collect American healthcare records and personal health data. Through state-controlled biotech companies, Beijing has aggressively gathered personal health data from Americans and other countries in an effort to dominate the bioeconomy.

A recent report from a coalition of respected bi-partisan leaders notes that America’s dependence on foreign biologics supply chains presents an increasing risk for our defense and economy. To counter this growing threat, lawmakers in the Senate and House have introduced bipartisan legislation aimed at securing American health data and protecting intellectual property. However, in order to assert our country’s continued leadership in biotechnology and strengthen our domestic supply chain of life-saving diagnostics and therapeutics, banning foreign adversaries will not be enough. We must take a whole-of-government approach to invest in America’s biotech ingenuity. We believe the South plays a critical role in that approach.

Birmingham, Alabama is uniquely positioned to step into a national and global leadership role in designing life-saving diagnostics and therapeutics. As a fulcrum of world-class care at one of America’s largest public hospitals, the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) is also one of the nation’s leading biomedical research institutes. UAB’s expansive research expertise—which already boasts the Center for Clinical and Translational Science and will be exponentially bolstered by the pending completion of a state-of-the-art genomic medicine facility—is complemented by the translational efforts at Southern Research, which has produced 20 drugs throughout its history and is growing efforts to help more Alabamians in underserved areas benefit from cutting-edge medicine through clinical trials.

With a diverse patient population and access to strong research and development institutions, we have both the resources and the sense of urgency to lead the next era of biotech innovation. Birmingham is able to solve critical challenges and lead the nation and world in accessible precision medicine, accelerated drug discovery and commercialization, and improved health outcomes—all while securing our domestic supply chain and reducing reliance on foreign adversaries.

Central to this vision is establishing the Birmingham Biotech Hub, a dynamic innovation ecosystem that will catalyze innovation, drive economic growth, and build accessible precision medicine infrastructure to improve health outcomes across the state and nation. As elected leaders in Alabama, we have made proactive investments in infrastructure to connect the world-class science at our universities and nonprofit institutions with the top-notch care provided by our physicians. Collectively, the State of Alabama and the City of Birmingham have invested substantially in this vision, and our federal leaders have pushed to make Birmingham a top-10 funded city by the National Institutes of Health. And we are not alone. The Birmingham Biotech Hub was one of 31 finalists in the nationwide Regional Tech Hubs competition.

We believe that federal investment from the U.S. Department of Commerce will supercharge our investments for three reasons.

First, investment in the Birmingham Biotech Hub innovation ecosystem will onshore key aspects of the supply chain for the development of personalized medicine, enabling America to rebuff efforts by foreign adversaries to dominate this critical part of the bioeconomy. The Birmingham Biotech Hub will accelerate drug discovery, improve health outcomes, secure our domestic supply chain for innovative therapeutics and diagnostics, and position the United States as a global leader in the rapidly evolving field of biotechnology. Even more importantly, Birmingham’s collaborative, accessible precision medicine initiatives are intentional about connecting biotech innovations to the patients and families who need it most but are too often underserved.

Second, the economic impact of this endeavor cannot be overstated. By nurturing biotech startups and supporting their growth, we will stimulate job creation, ensure regional economic competitiveness, and anchor the national bioeconomy. Increased workforce development programming will equip our communities with the skills and knowledge they need to participate in industry-leading biomedical research and healthcare delivery as well as create new, well-paying job opportunities in biotechnology and genomics. This will empower individuals to advance their careers and their companies while generating economic growth and prosperity throughout the South.

Finally, we believe America has a built-in advantage with trusted, proven institutions rooted in the South that can steward effective solutions for patients and families while protecting American competitiveness. The Birmingham Biotech Hub can uplift several institutions with legacies of success to address critical national healthcare challenges and put America at the forefront of innovation for generations to come. Local, state, and federal alignment is critical in achieving these outcomes.

If America has any hope of maintaining its leadership in biotechnology, we must invest in places like Birmingham and Alabama.

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