More than 575 people attended BioNJ’s 13th Annual BioPartnering Conference this past Tuesday, where some 70 companies from across the US made their 10-minute pitch presentations to investors on their respective innovations.
If there was a common theme surrounding the event, which was held at The Palace in Somerset, it was that innovative success happens because of collaborations.
“Major breakthroughs happen because of many people. Innovators, funders in this room … the entire ecosystem – that makes innovation possible, that makes up the crucial parts in saving lives – is here,” said Samuele Butera, president, US pulmonary hypertension and retina at Janssen and Johnson & Johnson, during morning opening remarks.
Steven Cohen, partner and chair, emerging business and technology practice, at the law firm of Morgan Lewis, added that among the top three traits of a biotech industry leader is the ability to collaborate: “No one can develop a drug on their own. It takes biology, chemistry, legal, regulatory and financial acumen,” he said.
Biotech industry collaboration is also necessary when it comes to workforce development, as discussed in the panel presentation titled, “Building a Workforce for Biopharma Manufacturing.”
With the increasing commercialization of CAR-T cell therapy [a type of immunotherapy that uses T cells from one’s immune system to develop their treatment], Bob Bowden, senior director of CAR-T manufacturing at Janssen, said that “hundreds upon hundreds of personnel for years to come” will be needed to fill the talent pipeline, and that can only happen “through a collaboration between government, academia and industry.”
Aaron Fichtner, president of the New Jersey Council of County Colleges (NJCCC), said the state’s 18 community colleges are working together to meet industry workforce needs.
With funding assistance from the State Legislature and Gov. Phil Murphy, NJCCC, in conjunction with the New Jersey Business & Industry Association (NJBIA), launched the New Jersey Careers Pathways initiative. “Now, we have multiple community colleges working together, and we have the foundation to create [workforce] capacity for the industry,” Fichtner said, as he spotlighted Middlesex College’s creation of an associate’s degree program in biomanufacturing while it is also working with Pathways funds to develop other initiatives that align with the biotech industry.
During recent state budget testimony, NJBIA has requested an additional $1 million to support the cell and gene therapy biomanufacturing workforce development needs of the pharmaceutical and biotech industries in the state.
“We are going to make sure that all of you have access to a skilled workforce in cell and gene therapy,” Fichtner told the audience. “We must lean in and work together, not just with our community colleges, but with our high school, community partners and four-year higher education partners. Industry also must be at the table to help us identify and make sure our curriculum is aligned with their needs. I hope this is the beginning of a much broader partnership. We must make sure industry grows and thrives in New Jersey because we have a workforce better than anywhere else in the world.”
Another highlight of the BioPartnering conference was the release of “Health Equity in Clinical Trials MBA Business Case Competition: Identifying Innovative Approaches to Strengthening Diversity Within Clinical Trials.”
The competition was designed to promote the next generation of diverse clinical trial innovators and identify innovative approaches and successful models that can be used nationally to strengthen diversity in trials and expand health equity.
Awards to the top three teams were based on written proposals, and case prizes totaled $20,500. Three winning teams – Johns Hopkins University, Rutgers University and a combined team of Baylor College of Medicine, Northwestern University & Rice University – presented their business plans to potential partners, collaborators and investors at the conference.
According to BioNJ President and CEO Debbie Hart, “Each of our participating teams has the potential to make a difference for patients by offering new models and technologies to better serve patients, build community trust, and address gaps in healthcare delivery.”
Overall, Hart said, “The BioPartnering Conference is about growing the ecosystem and partnering to bolster medical innovation. The energy throughout the day as new opportunities and business endeavors were discussed was absolutely palpable.”
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