"At BioNJ, we want to make sure that policies, whether at the state or federal level, enable innovation and patient access. We believe that solutions should be focused on what patients pay at the pharmacy counter."

Debbie Hart

PRESIDENT AND CEO, BIONJ

February 27, 2019

What is BioNJ’s mandate within New Jersey’s life sciences sector?

Our mandate is to make sure that New Jersey continues to be a robust life sciences ecosystem.  Our key goals are to protect and facilitate innovation and to ensure that patient access to therapies and cures is protected at the state and federal level. Our objective is to ensure that the overall climate is conducive to companies coming and prospering here and that the industry continues to grow here.

As the Chair of the New Jersey Biotechnology Task Force, could you outline what the Task Force had set out to achieve?

The Biotechnology Task Force was focused on identifying the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats for the industry in New Jersey in order to make informed recommendations to the Governor and the Legislature about new programs, offerings and initiatives that would support the biotechnology industry. Based on the report we released in June 2018, our recommendations have formed the basis for several legislative and regulatory proposals that are making their way through the system. For example, one of our recommendations was to bring back the New Jersey Commission on Science, Innovation and Technology, an entity that existed in New Jersey for several decades and had a significant impact. While our previous Governor did not fund the commission, our current Governor and the Legislature decided to re-establish and fund the commission. I was honored to be appointed by the Governor to the commission as one of eight appointments, along with the President of Rutgers - Dr. Robert Barchi - and the President of the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) - Dr. Joel Bloom.

The issues surrounding drug pricing continue to be a major concern for large pharma and government, alike. Could you elaborate on the advocacy work being carried out in Trenton and in Washington D.C.?

At BioNJ, we want to make sure that policies, whether at the state or federal level, enable innovation and patient access. We believe that solutions should be focused on what patients pay at the pharmacy counter.  We stand ready to work with policy makers and others to ensure that patients can access the therapies and cures they need and that innovation is enabled at every turn.

How is BioNJ helping to reinvent New Jersey as a destination for biotechnology?

At BioNJ, we are working every day to attract and retain companies and talent and to make sure that those in our ecosystem are connected and supported through our programs as well as by state government.  One of the things that we are most proud of is our talent across the continuum, and, in particular, one of New Jersey’s greatest strengths is our development and commercialization talent and capabilities. In fact, in 2018, 35% of all new FDA approvals for novel drugs came from companies with a footprint in New Jersey. Meanwhile, our academic institutions, including Princeton, Rutgers and NJIT are focused on increasing the number of technology spinouts. In addition, we are excited about a number of incubators that have opened in the last year. For example, Celgene opened an incubator at its Summit West Research Facility and Princeton University opened a life sciences incubator – the Princeton Innovation Center BioLabs incubator in Princeton. BioNJ is supporting these activities all along the way.

Is LifeSci NYC’s ten-year, US$500 million investment plan to make New York City a biotech hub likely to detract from or facilitate interest in New Jersey?

The NYC plan, coupled with the millions of dollars that New Jersey invests in the industry each year, will create tremendous synergy.  Given the geographic proximity, I believe it will create opportunities for both states. There are already a vast number of people who live in one state and commute to the other for work and that will continue. Furthermore, the concentration of venture dollars in New York City will benefit New Jersey given that we have no shortage of real estate in which to house these companies, so we can accommodate new ventures and we are well connected to NYC by road and train.  We see opportunity.

What is your vision for New Jersey and the role it will play within the biopharmaceuticals industry?

New Jersey will continue to be an important place for the industry. Given our tremendous talent, large industry presence, our desirable geographic locale, strong government support, proximity to Wall Street, the NIH and the FDA as well as leading academic centers, not to mention its quality of life, New Jersey is well positioned to continue its leadership in this sector. We see tremendous potential for New Jersey’s continued growth in early-stage innovation. To help enable that potential, our Governor is advancing an economic strategic plan including numerous programs that directly benefit the Life Sciences industry. 

Meanwhile at BioNJ, we currently liaise with other international hubs and companies, and have agreements with several geographies around the world to facilitate collaboration. Governor Murphy talks about innovation at every turn, and has fostered several international relationships as well to facilitate innovation with countries, including Germany and Israel. As a result of having hosted trade delegations in New Jersey, we have an increasing concentration of companies from Sweden, China, South Korea and Japan and other countries around the world. All in, New Jersey is well positioned to build on its historic strength. 

Could you provide a final message to the stakeholders looking at New Jersey as a potential business destination?

New Jersey is a great place to be with much to offer the industry.  In concert with our New Jersey government partners, BioNJ is eager to support businesses that are considering coming to New Jersey.

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