You co-founded BioNJ almost 30 years ago; how did New Jersey’s life sciences space change in this time frame?
I worked alongside several New Jersey biopharma and biotechnology company executives who knew the biopharmaceutical industry would take off and we wanted to ensure that it did so in New Jersey and that the State of New Jersey would help to support it along the way.
That was the launchpad for what has grown and evolved into a robust industry representing the full spectrum of the best the industry has to offer. That evolution continues. The manner and speed with which medicines are developed and tested has drastically improved, and revolutionary technologies, such as gene editing, opened a new way of treating disease and studying their evolution. Furthermore, once life-threatening diseases are now treatable and curable - Hepatitis C is the perfect example, which now has a stunning cure rate of more than 90% thanks to a treatment developed by a New Jersey company. Also quite astonishing is the fact that people now live on average 10 years longer than they did in 1989, and the global pharmaceutical industry invested US$200 billion in R&D in 2020, which is an unprecedented amount.
In what way is New Jersey defending its position as leading hub for innovation and development in life sciences?
The industry has grown by 9% from 2018 to 2021 in New Jersey, providing 105,000 direct jobs coming from nearly 4,500 establishments. We have a high degree of industry specialization - BIO just released its latest economic impact study in New Jersey, showing a 79% greater concentration of bioscience industry-to-employment relative to the national average. New Jersey is one of the top states when it comes to patent activity, and venture capital investment has increased consistently in recent years. Meanwhile all that productivity and investment are paying off. In fact, nearly 40% of novel FDA drug approvals in 2020 and 2021 came from companies with a footprint in New Jersey, including the first Covid-19 vaccines and therapies.
How bumpy is the road from development to reaching the actual patient, given how limited accessibility can still be?
It is a long and costly road; it takes from 10 to 12 years to bring a drug to market, and costs $2.6 billion on average.
The good news is that innovative therapies and treatments are increasingly making their way to patients; treatments such as gene therapies and cell therapies are making a difference for an increasing number of people. The changes in oncology and the increase in patient’s quality and length of life, as well as survival rate, when compared to 20 years ago, is quite dramatic, so I remain confident that even though the path is long, tough, and fraught with challenges, we are experiencing the payoff of our perseverance.
BioNJ has members of all-sizes under its umbrella - from J&J that has been here since the 19th century to startups - how do they mix and how do they compete?
It is very much a synergistic and dynamic environment where large and small and early and late- stage companies co-exist, partner and flourish and talent flow across and between companies although there is competition to attract and retain talent. The growth of the different facets of the industry has happened as a result of legacy biopharma being here and attracting others to cluster around it and grow from it including a robust industry of services providers including law firms, accounting firms, CROs, CDMOs and others that support the industry.
Our governors and legislative leaders have also had a dramatic impact on the industry, each having built on the legacy of their predecessors. Governor Murphy is no exception: the Governor commissioned the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) to establish exciting new programs such as the Evergreen Innovation fund and he recommissioned the defunct Commission on Science, Innovation and Technology (NJCSIT) which is supporting companies and their work through a wide range of grant funding.
You mentioned the importance of governors and, hence, legislation. Could you give us your angle on how the Inflation Reduction Act will affect the industry?
As a direct consequence of the IRA companies are reassessing their programs and considering halting those programs because they will not deliver the needed return on investment. And there are other potential policy threats out there, and some of them are being considered right here in New Jersey. Policies such as Prescription Drug Affordability Boards are very concerning, and we are hopeful that they will not go through in our state as it would not serve patient access and it will hamper innovation. There are other areas that would be more productive areas of policy focus, such as Pharmacy Benefits Managers (PBMs) and the impact that they are having on patient access.
What is the next frontier for BioNJ?
We are committed to Health Equity in Clinical Trials and believe it is a moral imperative for our industry to enable it. Many of our companies are committing significant resources to making a difference. At BioNJ we are focused on ways of identifying, collecting, and utilizing clinical trial data to make it easier to ensure health equity in clinical trials as well as sharing our members’ work so that others can learn from and look for collaboration opportunities. We have established an MBA Business Plan Competition which will identify and honor talent and solutions that will help to address this critical challenge…Because Patients Can’t Wait.
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