0913 911 Comment
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Politics, Policy & Law

Commentary: Attack on the future

At the twentieth anniversary of 9/11, BioCentury republishes its September 2001 call to industry to defend its essential underpinnings

At the twentieth anniversary of 9/11, BioCentury republishes its September 2001 call to industry to defend its essential underpinnings.

Sep 13, 2021 | 11:48 PM GMT

As part of a package commemorating the twentieth anniversary of 9/11, BioCentury is republishing this commentary, which was originally published on Sept. 17, 2001. BioCentury is also republishing its September 2001 appreciation of Lisa Raines, who died in the attacks.

Beyond all matters of profit, the biotechnology industry exists because those of us in the industry carry an abiding faith in the future, and indeed are energized by our belief that through science, investment and stamina we can improve the human condition in profound ways. We must not surrender that faith in the future in the escalating war with those who seek to destroy our civilization’s shared values and way of life.

All of us have profound personal feelings about last week’s events. At BioCentury, our anger is accompanied by a great sense of loss— the relinquishing of a happy and perhaps naïve sense that the internationalization of this industry would continue unabated.

In recent weeks, we had launched two new offices in Europe, participated in industry-building events in France, India and Taiwan, and were looking forward to similar activities in Australia, Israel and Singapore, as well as anticipating the reaffirmation of the collaborative values of the industry at BioPartnering Europe and BIO-Europe in the fall.

Yes, we recognized that each region of the world has its own challenges in building its bio-industry, from capital and management constraints to small scientific infrastructures. But underneath these differences, we have always and everywhere found a unifying sense of optimism, excitement and confidence that these challenges would be overcome in the future.

Perhaps, surrounded by such optimism, we had ignored our otherwise more grounded sensibilities. As many of you in the industry know, the principals at BioCentury are politically minded, quick to challenge critics who use pseudoscience and fear-mongering to delay the best efforts of the industry. But perhaps fewer of you are aware that we have often sensed that the post-Cold War world is less safe than the U.S.-Soviet hegemony of Mutual Assured Destruction.

Still, this was easy to forget as we jumped into airplanes, carried out our international agendas and returned as if from a rather lengthy commute, discommoded only by the occasional canceled flight and misdirected luggage.

Likewise, we have witnessed cross-cultural pushing and shoving as the global biotech community has tried to mesh the relatively unifying linguistics of science with the less well understood ethos of entrepreneurship. But through it all, there always has been the underlying willingness to make the relationships work, and to accomplish the greater agenda promised by the science and technology.

Now, for the industry, it is necessary to understand that its very culture is under attack, and to recognize that our essential underpinnings must be protected as the U.S. and its allies divert resources into this war and impose new forms of security designed to make our lives safer. The list is short in number, but huge in its implications:

- The free exchange of people, information and ideas.

- The ability to combine scientific and technological achievements into a greater whole, regardless of the birthplace of the innovations and know how.

- The free flow of capital to fund meritorious science and management.

- The transparency of decisions by regulatory institutions.

Thus, it is reasonable to remind everyone in the industry that there is a professional dimension to each personal response to last week’s attacks in the U.S. It is a time to recommit ourselves to carry out the idea and promise of biotechnology. It is a time to renew our energy and willingness to carrying out our business resolutely in the face of these heinous physical attacks.

It is also time to renew our commitment to defend the industry in the war of ideas carried out by opponents of the left and right. Even as we cannot allow the terrorist attacks to sever the relationships that have been built all over the world, none of us can stand by while those who see only darkness in the future use false logic and untruths to sow distrust of our greater intentions.

The future is ours, but only so long as we actively defend it on all fronts.

Coda: Thank you to our friends

One of the benefits of the internationalization of biotech is the friendship that emerges from travel and collaboration across borders. In times of emergency, the depth of these friendships proved to be boundless.

I was in Cannes at the Atlas Venture meeting when the terrorists attacked, and just as we all remember where we were when President Kennedy was shot, I'm sure we all will remember where we were at that moment. I was out walking, doing a little window shopping between the end of the meeting and the time I could call my office in California.

What followed were three very strange days that felt a bit like being trapped in Rick’s Bar in Casablanca. Everyone hung out together — and had fun — because the alternative was sitting alone in your room wondering when you would get home and worrying about what might happen to you if you got on a plane.

What was most remarkable was the kindness of people, in contrast to the unspeakable destruction of cowards afraid to even stand up and acknowledge their actions. I would like to thank everyone at Atlas, particularly Jean-François, for making things easy for all of us. Becky, Connie and Christos — I couldn’t have had better companions. Linda, I am so glad your brother was okay. George, Stelios, Bob, Hoda, Mike, it was good to know there was always someone to talk to, watch CNN with.

And I would like to thank all the people who worked with my partner Dave Flores to arrange places for me to stay under all conceivable circumstances from Europe to Asia. You made me feel as if I wasn’t quite so far from home. Thank you Shinichi, Denise, David, Ronald, Christopher, and Jeremy.

Finally, knowing as many people as I do in the banking world, I was proud of the way everyone worked together, offering aid to rivals and passing up the opportunity to take advantage of another’s misfortune. I am proud to know you all.

Many in the industry still may be wending their way home, and will have their own stories to tell. I hope they are as uplifting. —Karen Bernstein

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