As Georgia welcomes its new Governor and a wave of newly elected legislators, we asked Kallarin Mackey, Emory University Director of State Affairs, Government and Community Affairs and Joseph (Joe) Zorzoli, Head of U.S. Government Relations for UCB to weigh in on the state of play in life sciences policy in Georgia.
How does Georgia Bio plan to work with the incoming Governor and newly elected legislators to ensure they are aware of the important issues of the life sciences industry?
KALLARIN: It will be important to begin by educating the newly elected officials on who Georgia Bio is as an organization, the issues that are important to the membership and the impact that the life sciences industry has on our state. Georgia’s bioscience firms have grown their employment base by 10.6 percent since 2014 and employed just over 32,000 in 2016. To the point above, one of the best ways to illustrate this is by bringing legislators on site to see the work that Georgia Bio members are doing across the state. It’s important to make it personal. Seeing in person the research and innovation that Georgia Bio members engage in every day is a great way to help a lawmaker understand the impact that these companies have in their own district and across the state.
Regarding workforce development, Georgia’s life science industry is consistently seeing a shortage of employees with necessary skills to fill jobs. One example is biomanufacturing. Our research universities, through federal, private and state funding, have advanced their bio manufacturing centers and programs helping to position Georgia as a leader in the future of biotechnology in medicine, agriculture and industrial applications. However, many of our high school students don’t have the opportunity to learn and advance into these degree programs.
How could Georgia Bio help support a student and workforce pipeline for the industry?
KALLARIN: Georgia has a unique opportunity to grow its life science workforce and improve opportunities for young people in rural communities by investing in cutting-edge teacher training workshops that will provide them skills to successfully compete for jobs in the one of the highest paying career sectors. Georgia Bio is leading an effort to seek state support for rural teacher training in biomanufacturing for agribusiness, medicine, and industrial applications. The initiative will reach eight rural and under-served school districts with hands-on, life science curriculum and training for 7-12th grade teachers. The program will train 64 teachers and impact over 5,000 students. As a result, these schools districts will provide a more experienced cohort of students skilled in applicable capabilities.
On patient access, there is discussion that we could see a state waiver for Medicaid expansion this year. Do you think we are likely to see that happen this year? How does that issue impact Georgia Bio’s membership and getting patients access to cutting edge drugs on the market?
KALLARIN: The Governor has announced that he is dedicating $1 million in the FY2020 budget to develop a Medicaid waiver plan that would allow Georgia to have more flexibility in how it administers the program. We are hopeful that a waiver will expand access to care for Georgians and provide them with the drugs that they need. Another critical piece to providing patients greater access to these medications is the passage of legislation to establish clinical review criteria for step therapy protocols. This is an issue that Georgia Bio has been working on for the past few years and we are grateful to the lawmakers who have championed the issue. We hope to continue the conversation this session to seek final passage of the legislation.
Economic Development – Georgia Bio promotes tax incentives to support emerging technology companies. 28 other states have created matching grant program for recipients of National Institutes of Health SBIR (Small Business Innovative Research) and STTR (Small Business Technology Transfer) grants. Do you think Georgia should enact similar measures?
JOE: I do. It makes a lot of sense to me as we know these incentives work and helps to create and grow the health sciences ecosystem in Georgia. 28 other states have passed measures for the state to match SBIR & STTR grants.
Federal Issues. What federal issues could impact Georgia’s state policy agenda?
JOE: University Research, patient access and net operating loss. Let’s take these one at a time.
University Research – The immigration debate has already led to one government shutdown and could perhaps lead to another mid-month. Fortunately, NIH and CDC funding have already been approved for the remainder of the fiscal year, but the National Science Foundation (NSF) has not. Another shutdown when the latest funding bill expires could once again put a hold on NSF research grants.
Patient Access – Gov. Brian Kemp announced plans to apply to CMS for a waiver to expand patient access through the State’s Medicaid program. CMS has already approved more than 30 such waivers and this Administration remains receptive to such waivers. Georgia’s application details have yet to be decided, but if approved it could lead to access for many of the 500,000 uninsured who might otherwise qualify for Medicaid through a straight Medicaid expansion. Applying for a waiver is consistent with GA Bio’s support for expanding access to innovative therapies through the State’s Medicaid program.
Net Operating Loss – The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 limited the deductibility of net operating losses (NOLs) in a way that adversely impacts Georgia’s biotech startups, especially when it comes to potential valuations. The next time Congress makes changes to the tax code, it needs to address the needs of capital-intensive biotechnology start-ups by allowing them to fundraise without sacrificing accumulated NOLs.
Why is it valuable that Georgia Bio is enhancing its policy work?
KALLARIN: The life science industry routinely reports shortages of skilled employees and without intervention, the deficit will continue to grow. It is critical for lawmakers to understand the impact that this industry has on Georgia’s economic development and the significant loss we could face if we do not continue to invest in the education and resources necessary to continue its growth trajectory. There’s tough competition for the attention of lawmakers, between healthcare, public safety, transportation and education, that Georgia Bio must put the spotlight on the life sciences industry to demonstrate that it cuts across many of these policy areas.
Georgia Bio works on behalf of 200 member organizations to drive public policy, build a network of industry leaders, create access to capital, introduce cutting-edge STEM education programs, and create robust value-driven purchasing programs. We partner with BIO to offer members discounted prices and/or enhanced services on products and services essential to their business operations.