"The first FDA-approved saliva test was developed early on by New Jersey’s own Rutgers University, and, BioNJ member Pfizer, that has a large presence in New Jersey, delivered the first vaccine."
How has BioNJ evolved and adapted to continue offering support and high-level discourse among its member companies?
At our very core nothing has changed and BioNJ remains passionate about helping our members help patients. We strive to ensure that New Jersey has a robust life sciences ecosystem where innovation is supported and patients can access that innovation.
However, if you drill down a bit, a lot has changed because of COVID. We have reinvented ourselves to adapt to the new “norm” to ensure that our members have the tools they need during this unprecedented time and that they are able to continue to do the work that is transforming the lives of patients around the world.
Over the last year, BioNJ has continued to support our members in numerous ways, from creating COVID-19 vaccine toolboxes, continuing our policy work in both Trenton and Washington (although virtually), to developing platforms and programming that foster engagement, mentorship, partnering and learning. We continue to build upon our Purchasing Consortium, which allows members to save money on important services and have hosted webinars specifically around COVID, such as “HR”, “IT/Cybersecurity”, “Finance” and the “Value of Medical Innovation” in the Age of COVID.
In what way has the industry in New Jersey responded to the challenges of the pandemic?
Globally, the industry has stepped up with lightening speed. At this point, there are over 800 different programs that are addressing COVID – whether therapies, vaccines, testing, etc. More than 70 of these companies are based in New Jersey. Many are working on more than one COVID program.
The first FDA-approved saliva test was developed early on by New Jersey’s own Rutgers University, and, BioNJ member Pfizer, that has a large presence in New Jersey, delivered the first vaccine – with additional vaccines on the immediate horizon coming from legendary New Jersey companies, including J&J, Sanofi and GSK, not to mention the scores of smaller companies.
Fortunately, right out of the gate, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy declared that lab workers were essential workers.
Has there been a silver lining coming out of the COVID challenge?
One of the silver linings has been that the capital markets for the life sciences industry have been extraordinary. Additionally, a number of the changes such as the use of Emergency Use Authorizations, expedited clinical trials and the use of data have proven to be critical to bringing COVID treatments to market. Hopefully these policy and process changes will be continued post COVID.
In terms of manufacturing, President Biden issued a policy that is rewarding manufacturing nationally. New Jersey is in a great position to take advantage of this as we are home to approximately 139 bio-manufacturing facilities. Furthermore, late in 2020 the Governor signed the Economic Recovery Act of 2020, which includes an incredible incentives package of new and revised programs to support innovation industries, such as biopharma.
With respect to incentivizing development, what are the policies that you would want to see implemented?
The Economic Recovery Act of 2020 is the most meaningful of its kind for the industry in New Jersey’s history. The programs under that legislation are in the process of being implemented, and they will have a significant impact on growing many of the companies that are currently here, and in attracting additional industry to New Jersey.
Under Governor Murphy’s leadership, The Hub – a new collaborative site in downtown New Brunswick featuring research, entrepreneurship, innovation and start-up incubation – represents the latest opportunity to build on New Jersey’s strengths in the life sciences. Bringing the public and private sectors, along with academia and investors, together under one roof allows for new businesses, and new jobs. In November, it was announced that Princeton University, Rutgers University, Hackensack Meridian Health and RWJBarnabas Health will be the first tenants of The Hub.
As we know, cell and gene therapy is growing globally and New Jersey has quickly become a leader with more than 25% of all cell and gene therapies in development being done in New Jersey. Just last year, BioCentriq™, the Cell and Gene Therapy Development and Manufacturing Center and Center of Excellence at NJII opened.