Spotlight On: Debbie Hart, President & CEO, BioNJ

Spotlight On: Debbie Hart, President & CEO, BioNJ

3 min read May 2022 BioNJ is a nonprofit organization that works to enhance the climate for life sciences in New Jersey. In an interview with Invest:, President and CEO Debbie Hart discussed the current innovations happening within New Jersey’s life sciences industry, sharing the unique ways in which the state of New Jersey is helping to foster innovations and her outlook for the industry.

What have been some highlights or takeaways from the past year?

Despite the pandemic, it has been a very productive time for us. Our industry saved the world and many of those things that addressed COVID, such as the first vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics, came from New Jersey companies. We are very proud of that, but it was a stark reminder of how critical this industry is both to New Jersey and the global economy – with an annual economic impact of $83.4 billion to the state, providing over 300,000 direct, indirect & induced jobs.

The Garden State remains the “Medicine Chest of the World” by delivering unprecedented medical innovation with nearly 40% of all FDA drug approvals over the last two years coming from companies with a footprint in New Jersey – 70 FDA approvals from 43 companies. 

What strategies have you implemented to combat the labor shortage?

In terms of what companies are doing, we’ve talked a lot about empathetic leadership, which has always been a topic in our industry: understanding our people’s personal needs and priorities in addition to their professional needs and making sure that they are being addressed as appropriate. Last year in response to the pandemic, one of our companies, PTC Therapeutics, established a global talent pipeline program and brought in recent graduates from around the globe to intern there. They are offering this widely successful program again this year. I would also like to point to the state of New Jersey, which has developed a variety of programs to help companies identify, recruit and train talent. 

How do you envision the future of the biopharmaceutical industry?

Innovation will continue to develop and provide new opportunities. The challenge lies in the financial marketplace and policy environment and whether or not they will be conducive to its success. The financial markets are a challenge right now, affecting fundraising and the IPO market. On the policy front, we share policymakers’ concern about healthcare affordability. In addressing affordability, we need to ensure that innovation is allowed to happen unencumbered and that patients can then access that innovation. Some of the proposals are concerning in that they amount to price controls and as we know, government-controlled prices do not work. There are a number of measures that can be taken to address affordability; looking across the continuum for all those entities that contribute to the price of a drug is critically important and then looking at the price at the pharmacy counter is a place to start. There are many collaborators along the way that need to be looked at when determining the price a patient pays. A number that you might find surprising is that more than 50% of what is paid for drugs at the counter goes to the supply chain. Ultimately, we need a holistic and systemwide approach to ensure patients have access to the medicines they need when they need them. 

What policies are you currently following?

One of the really positive things going on is the commitment to innovation by the New Jersey state government and the expansion and creation of incentives such as those that were enabled in the Economic Opportunity Act of 2020, which had a dozen different programs that will have a positive impact on innovation. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the commitment by our governor and the New Jersey Economic Development Authority on this front in addition to the work of the New Jersey Commission on Science Innovation and Technology in providing grants to early stage companies funding programs, the programs being oversubscribed by five times and companies leveraging funding they received from the Commission by a factor of 16.

On what fronts is New Jersey a leader in the biopharmaceutical industry?

Cell and gene therapy is growing here and New Jersey is really becoming a hub for it. With 30% of all cell and gene therapies in development being done in the New Jersey region, we’re clearly a leader on that front. Also New Jersey is the top biopharmaceutical manufacturing state in the country with 139 FDA registered biopharma manufacturing facilities. And the expertise in digital and AI related technologies are helping to ensure that New Jersey remains cutting edge.  

What is your outlook for the organization in the next two to three years?

I’m bullish by nature and that applies to New Jersey, our industry and BioNJ. We have great support from the state and our companies are doing amazing things. On the policy front, we want to prioritize informing policymakers of the impact of proposals they are considering and the possible negative impact those could have on the future of medical innovation and patient access. 

As the Garden State continues to lead the way in revolutionizing medical treatments, we couldn’t be prouder of our BioNJ members, and our entire New Jersey life sciences ecosystem, for the medicines, cures and hope they bring to patients around the globe. 

And, there is even more on the horizon as our life sciences community continues to grow. From global companies increasing their footprint here to international leaders choosing to call New Jersey home and an expanding environment for entrepreneurship, collaboration and discovery with the New Jersey Innovation and Technology Hub in New Brunswick, The COVE in Jersey City and the “City of Tomorrow” innovation campus at SciTech Scity – all creating communities for discovery, innovation and development – I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings.  

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