A 10-Point Plan to Stimulate Biotech & the Economy as a Whole
AN OPEN LETTER TO PRESIDENT OBAMA
Dear President Obama:
As you and the rest of our nation’s leadership grapple with the momentous questions of restoring our collective financial stability and eminence, I am hopeful that some lessons from my background as an immigrant—now naturalized citizen—might prove instructive. The undeniable fact that runs throughout all the lessons I have learned, which seems to be overlooked by many in this country, is that America is truly the land of opportunity.
I arrived here from Iran as a young man, with some experience as a sales representative at my family’s pharmaceutical company. My father strongly encouraged me to get a “real education” and out of respect for him, I traveled to this land of opportunity, and earned an advanced science degree at the University of San Francisco. Fortunately for me, a chemistry professor at USF assumed the role of my mentor and convinced me to undertake a career in chemical research and discovery. As the doors to my native country closed as a result of the 1979 revolution, I arrived at the University of California-Davis, where I earned a Ph.D. in synthetic organic chemistry. The caliber of students and professors I have worked very closely with at every step of the way proved the U.S. educational system is truly second to none.
Since 1993, when I became a naturalized citizen, I have founded three scientific research and equipment companies. My first, located in Novato, California, manufactured approximately 80 environmental protection products and created over 30 jobs. In 2007, we were able to relocate the company’s manufacturing operations from China to the United States which added additional employment to the local economy. The company now distributes over 5,000 products around the world, and exports to countries such as China, India, Germany, and Russia. The drug discovery firm I founded and currently lead, NovaBay Pharmaceuticals, has raised over $43 million in capital, collaborates with major global pharmaceutical firms, and employs 28 scientists and other employees. We are now in advanced human clinical studies with a totally new class of drug to treat a variety of infections without contributing to the worldwide crisis of antibiotic resistance.
President Obama, I believe my amazing journey of discovery, value and job creation could not have happened anywhere else in the world; nor do I believe it could have happened at any other time in history.
Lessons I have learned, which might be instructive, include an emphasis on a liberal, or at least flexible, immigration policy. I am afraid the open door policies of 19th and 20th centuries have come to an end in the post- 9/11 era. America is justifiably concerned about its borders and security. So what can be done?
People from around the globe, such as me, have flocked to America for centuries in search of freedom, higher education and the opportunity (not the guarantee) to better themselves; perhaps even create the next innovative enterprise that will change the world.
Innovation is the prime engine for job creation and economic recovery. Companies that are driven by it will have long-term success.
10 Point Plan
1. Let’s maintain America’s leadership in drug development and cost-effective healthcare by providing grants, loans and investments to small, capital-intensive biotech companies that employ less than 50 people. These companies create high paying jobs that cannot be exported easily to China, India or even Europe. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is in a great position to evaluate novel technologies and make grants available to small startups with viable business plans. The NIH can be a de facto venture capital arm of the U.S. government; its grants can be converted into pro-rata equity ownership of these companies
2. Promote hiring of qualified, unemployed workers. Companies hiring workers who have been unemployed for more than 12 months (particularly war veterans), should be exempt from payroll taxes for three years.
3. Eliminate or reduce the onerous burden of “Sarbanes Oxley” regulations for companies with less than 200 employees, or under $200 million market capitalization. This will encourage capital formation through IPOs and investment in innovative technologies.
4. Provide research and development tax credits to large companies who partner with small start-up companies in order to cultivate job growth, innovation and collaboration.
5. Continue capital gains tax-free status for investments in small, less than $200 million market cap companies. Profits from these investments should remain tax-free if the investment is kept in those companies for at least five years. These companies are this nation’s job creation engine. They must be nurtured in the capital markets by the risk taking “smart money.”
6. Create incentives for government research labs and public universities to transfer technology to small start-ups in the private sector.
7. America must take a leadership role in the wise stewardship of the earth’s resources. The world’s rivers, bays, oceans and global weather are at risk because of our careless activity today and, if we’re not diligent, for the foreseeable future. Every year when I travel to China on business, I am always amazed by the lack of interest in recycling and the worsening of pollution.
8. Invest in education. When I attended, quarterly tuition at UC Berkeley or UC Davis was $200; today it has risen to $12,000. We need to maintain our world class higher education while making it affordable for all. Many of our leading scientists and engineers would not have been able to earn their education if tuition costs were prohibitive.
9. Use diplomacy and financial aid to wage peace worldwide. An investment in creating peace will have a fantastic return.
10. Create an “open door,” welcoming visa policy for talented immigrants. Create incentives and reduce hurdles for gifted foreign students who want to stay in the United States. Recently, my company attracted the attention of a brilliant Korean graduate student from UC Berkeley, whom we tried to keep in the United States. The sheer volume and complexity of the attendant bureaucracy became overwhelming for both my company and the Korean scientist. He eventually gave up and is now a Professor of Biochemistry at one of the most prestigious Korean academic institutions. An unfortunate loss for the collective U.S. brain trust.
Mr. President, the United States is truly the land of unparalleled opportunity, a phenomenon that few who are native-born may appreciate fully. A vision of cultivating innovation, and a nurturing environment that welcomes immigrants whom will add value and wisdom, will foster our great nation’s security and ensure our freedoms and worldwide leadership into the future.