More from BIO `06: Clinton receives standing ovation; stresses interdependence and the need for a “world view”

April 11 About a half an hour before former President Bill Clinton was due to make his plenary address at BIO, thousands of people began to line up outside the convention center auditorium.  Assuming we'd never all get in, and formulating a "Plan B" for the next hour, I started toward the end of this endless queue, but was soon whisked away by a BIO organizer to a well-hidden and (mercifully short) press line, and...miracle or miracles, a table fairly near the stage. BIO's organizers and convention center staff deserve a huge amount of credit for pulling off this event, which went extremely smoothly. There were two huge projection screens at either side of the stage. No doubt, the event organizers had developed material for the screens that would set the stage for a speech that would focus on philanthropy and good works (the focus of Clinton's Foundation), but having photos of the world's poor and medicine-deprived, and sobering facts flashing on the screen, rang a bit hollow. Although biomedicines and other new cures will eventually reach some of those who need them, seeing these images at an event like this was a bit like seeing an article about global famine sandwiched between ads for $10,000 Louis Vuitton purses and $5-million real estate in the New York Times Sunday magazine. The former president looked very well, and his entrance on stage brought the audience [representing a wide spectrum of political views] to its feet. Clinton discussed the interdependence in the world today, and the need for balance in global relationships. 9/11, he said, was the outcome of lack of this balance. He took a not-so-gentle stab at those on the conservative right, emphasizing the need for science and evidence, and accusing them of attempting to muzzle findings on climate change. Clinton compellingly argued for the need for all individuals everywhere today to have a true "world view," and to be able to distinguish between important and transient issues. He did not shy away from reciting sobering statistics about the U.S. healthcare system, ranked 37th in the world, or, more disturbingly, the fact that one out of every four deaths on earth is that of a child, five years old or younger, from diseases that include AIDS, TB, malaria and cholera. (Not exactly at the top of the priority list for many pharma companies in the "developed" world today.) He discussed the work that his Foundation is doing to reduce the costs of HIV treatments in developing nations, and his plans for addressing the obesity epidemic in the U.S. The need for security was an undercurrent throughout his presentation; Clinton praised the Chinese government for its handling of the SARS outbreak, and reminded the audience of the Spanish flu pandemic, and the need for vigilance. Clinton also voiced his support for agricultural and industrial bio, particularly the development of biofuels. He didn't play to the audience, losing opportunities to bring it to its feet more than once, but his message was on target, and well worth the wait. He left the stage to a standing ovation. As he said, human beings are 99.9% the same, genetically. Perhaps it's time to focus on what unites, rather than divides us.  -AMS