Lilly CEO Addresses Innovation Crisis

Aug. 6, 2010
The threat to U.S. innovation isn't just felt in the biosciences.

In a speech given to the Detroit Economic Club earlier this summer, Eli Lilly and Co. CEO John C. Lechleiter warned that America's greatest competitive advantage -- its "genius for innovation" -- is in jeopardy. His speech focused on America's historic leadership in innovation and the policies necessary to ensure America does not fall behind as other countries gain momentum in the life sciences.

Calling the U.S. the "inventing nation" and citing the country's history of great innovators and life-changing inventions, Lechleiter highlighted advances in medicine. "Medical innovation in the 20th century alone transformed the basic expectations of human life that had prevailed since the dawn of civilization," he said.

While the "U.S. is the undisputed leader in medical advances," Lechleiter cautioned that "despite all this progress, despite all these gains, the evidence is mounting that we are facing today nothing short of an innovation crisis in America's life-sciences sector."

Biosciences employ some 1.3 million people directly and supporting a total of 7.5 million jobs in the U.S., Lechleiter said.

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However, the threat to U.S. innovation isn't just felt in the biosciences.

He cited a study that ranked the U.S. sixth among the top 40 industrialized nations in innovative competitiveness -- but last, 40th , in measures of what industrialized countries are doing to become more innovative. The study was published last year by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.

Lechleiter called attention to four policies he believes are necessary to allow innovation to continue to thrive in the U.S.:

  • Broad improvement in science and math education in grade schools and high schools so that "young people across our society have an opportunity to participate in the high-tech economy of the future;"
  • Immigration laws that allow and encourage top scientists to choose to work in the U.S. and ensure that "we do not drive away talented people who want to work here and contribute;"
  • A well-funded basic research infrastructure within academic and government labs; and
  • Tax policy that fosters innovation. Here Lechleiter called for making the federal R&D tax credit permanent; a federal investment tax credit to provide early-stage financing of innovation-based companies; and the adoption of tax and economic incentives to boost manufacturing and export-related job growth.

Lechleiter concluded his speech with a call for public policies that "unleash America's true genius for innovation." He said that, with the right choices, "what might seem unimaginable today will be commonplace tomorrow."