Will Smith’s BIO 2016 Keynote Highlights Hopeful Message to Industry

Published: Jun 09, 2016

Will Smith’s BIO 2016 Keynote Highlights Hopeful Message to Industry June 8, 2016
By Michael Krieger, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff

The opening keynote presentation at BIO 2016 had all the production values of a Hollywood film—and with good reason. Headlining the packed hall were Academy-award nominated actor Will Smith, along with the doctor he portrayed in the film “Concussion,” Dr. Bennet Omalu.

The show didn’t begin there, however. Before the main event, there were a number of presentations of note. First up was presentation of the 2016 BioGeneius awards by Seema Kumar of Johnson & Johnson , who awarded students for achievement in medical biotechnology, global sustainability for agricultural biotechnology, and global environment for industrial biotechnology.

After San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee took a few minutes to welcome the conventioneers back to a city with a burgeoning biotech presence, BIO Board Chairman and Acorda CEO Ron Cohen awed the crowd with a presentation that highlighted some of the soaring successes in biotech over the past decade, as well as the abject failures of promising medications—including his company’s seizure cluster medicine—that did not pass muster during trials.

Cohen’s point? Even if the failure rate in biotech development is 90%, the amazing successes more than make up for it, energizing the world with promise and hope. Some of the world’s most feared diseases are now manageable conditions thanks to biotechnology.

The penultimate presentation was from Johnson & Johnson’s Paul Stoffels, who in a moving speech about continuing the fight against so many maladies, said, “We have much work to do; no one can do it alone.” He admonished the attendees to continue to work together as an industry to do good, even though as Cohen had noted “90% of the time or more, what we work on, fails. That is our reality."

This sentiment—achieving beyond adversity—was driven home by the featured presenters, Will Smith and Dr. Omalu, during their discussion moderated by BIO President and CEO Jim Greenwood.

Filming “Concussion” wasn’t about the box office numbers, according to the featured presenters. The movie was about the lives that could be improved by the process.

Dr. Omalu discussed the challenges he faced trying to raise awareness of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the disease he discovered as a Pittsburgh coroner during his postmortem exam of former Steelers star “Iron Mike” Webster. Dr. Omalu, stymied by his employer who did not want him to press his investigations, took matters into his own hands—and his own pocket—to the tune of over $100,000 of his own money.

“I took his brain to my apartment—I owned the intellectual property since I did the research with my own money. I was in control and nobody could stop me,” said the now famous doctor who took on the NFL.

The result is knowledge that may save thousands of lives in the future.

Smith echoed Cohen’s sentiments, noting that even though 90% of his work doesn’t achieve what he wants, the remaining 10% more than makes up for it.

“I wrote a mission statement for myself and my family and it's about improving lives,” said Smith. “Suffering is a part of creating your dreams.”

He added, “The difference between depression and joy is purpose.”

Smith said that when he stopped trying to be a success, and started trying to make a difference instead, he no longer worried about reviews or box office receipts.

He pointed out that the film “Concussion” was never designed to be a box-office success, but rather to help parents of football players be better informed about the risks their children may be taking. “I had my son on the football field without this knowledge. I felt compelled as a parent to tell this story,” Smith added.

The ultimate message, tied to the event’s theme of “Imagine” was simple, according to Dr. Omalu, “It’s not the American narrative to dismiss something because you don’t understand it.”

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