Biotech Task Force offers suggestions to reinvigorate life science industry, but warns, ‘there is no magic bullet’

The state’s Biotechnology Task Force released a 44-page report of recommendations to the state that could help New Jersey reinvigorate its life sciences sector.

Many of the themes from the report echo comments from the Biotechnology Innovation Organization’s annual conference in Boston recently.

“Over the last two decades, the pharmaceutical footprint in New Jersey has contracted, affected by the patent cliff, the recession, mergers and acquisitions, research and manufacturing moving away from the state,” the report said. “The concentration of biopharmaceuticals has helped the state retain its position as a global hub for the medical sciences, but there is strong competition with other states and countries for startups and job creation.”

But the task force also understands that there are multiple factors involved, and it cites the efforts of Massachusetts to build an innovation economy — which has been the greatest source of competition for New Jersey.

“There is no ‘magic bullet’ for becoming an innovation hub,” the report said. “Building innovation capacity requires a portfolio of activities and investments, including: accelerating the translation and application of academic research, encouraging a ‘culture of entrepreneurship’ and the formation of new companies, providing access to investment capital for startup companies, investing in education and workforce development, enacting supportive policies and legislation, funding infrastructure (which includes an effective transportation system), and coalescing all key stakeholders into a mutually-reinforcing community (an ecosystem).

“To become a leading life sciences innovation hub, New Jersey needs a strategy for welcoming and enabling startup activity in biopharma as well as other sectors of the life sciences (medical technology, medical devices, bioinformatics, and medical diagnostics).”

The task force members include BioNJ CEO and President Debbie Hart, who served as chair, and Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker (D-Monmouth Junction), who served as vice chair. Other members include Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-Cranbury), Sen. Robert Singer (R-Lakewood), Assemblyman Christopher DePhillips (R-Midland Park), Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-Passaic), OncoSec Medical CEO Daniel O’Connor, Economic Development Authority Chief Operating Officer Timothy Lizura, and former Sen. Robert Gordon.

The task force held three meetings starting in December 2017 and spoke with representatives in the life sciences industry and from academic institutions.

The report shows a resurgence on seeking financial incentives from the state for both sectors.

This includes asking for things like orphan drug credits from the state and reviving the Commission on Science and Technology — a sort of EDA focused on the industry, which was defunded in 2010.

In March, Zwicker introduced legislation calling for the commission to be reinstated.

Here are the five key categories and important themes for each, according to the task force:

  • Translational research culture
    •  Restore the Commission on Science and Technology
    •  Provide support to better compete for Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer Program funding
    •  Establish a tax credit for private investment into university technology advancement funds and state match of investments from technology advancement funds into intellectual property
  • Entrepreneurial culture and capital
    • Increase availability of technical assistance by scaling existing programs across New Jersey incubator/accelerator network
    • Support executive spin-outs
    • Increase and enhance the Technology Business Tax Certificate Transfer Program (NOL)
    • Incentivize investment into New Jersey venture funds
    • Enhance the Angel Investor Tax Credit Program
    • Increase funding for Edison Innovation Fund and NJ CoVest Fund
  • Workforce
    • Support the I-Corps model and specialized training and mentoring to help bring discovery to marketplace
    • Create New Jersey Talent Retention Internships Program
    • Restore the Technology Fellowship Program
    • Provide state match of nonprofit research grant funding
  • Infrastructure
    • Support biomanufacturing & biobanks
    • Create an inventory of multi-tenant operators and increase state support for Innovation Districts
    • Establish a New Jersey “orphan drug” tax credit
    • Enhance the research & development tax credit
    • Adopt a state-level Section 1202 Incentive
    • Develop a Capital Gains Incentive Program
  • Ecosystem
    • Coordinate marketing efforts surrounding existing resources and New Jersey brand
    • Create and support New Jersey Centers for Excellence
    • Create a state-Ssupported forum to bring physicians together to share information about New Jersey-based clinical trial activity
    • Create a catalyst for New Jersey’s life sciences innovation ecosystem

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