As innovation has sprouted elsewhere, some have reportedly concluded perhaps New Jersey — the cradle of so many technological accomplishments – has lost its leadership edge, particularly in the battle against COVID-19. In fact, there is abundant evidence supporting a far different conclusion.
Let there be no mistake — New Jersey’s contributions to advancing medicine and health care have been significant in the past, are adding major discoveries today and will continue to make breakthroughs well into the future.
New Jersey remains at the forefront of R&D and technological and medical advances on which the world relies. Whether advancing human health through our vibrant life sciences community or leading the global telecommunications industry, our state continues to expand its rich innovation legacy, which counts the first steam locomotive, submarine and light bulb, and medical advances like tetracycline and innovative preparations of antimicrobial packaged medical devices.
With more scientists and engineers per square mile than anywhere else, New Jersey’s contributions to improving the human condition and driving technology have saved and improved countless lives. Buttressed by our world-class research universities, five medical schools and 43 teaching hospitals, New Jersey’s life sciences R&D sector has a strong pipeline of talent and clinical research facilities that equal any in the world. Add to that the nearly 800 clinical trials involving 17,000 patients statewide, generating $800 million annually — only part of the life sciences’ $83 billion-plus annual economic impact on New Jersey’s economy (13% of the state’s GDP).
Confronted with COVID-19, New Jersey’s dynamic biopharmaceutical and medical technology companies — the cornerstones of the state’s richly deserved reputation as the “medicine chest of the world” — immediately rose to the challenge. Supplemented by our research universities, they sprang into action, sustaining their unbelievable pace as they each have contributed their expertise — whether in developing and introducing vaccines in record time and drug delivery devices that are stopping the spread of COVID-19, repurposed medicines to mitigate its impact and diagnostic tests to identify the presence of the virus rapidly and accurately.
The New Jersey operations of these global companies have been at the forefront of this massive effort, whether formulating their strategies here, conducting R&D and clinical trials, or manufacturing and distributing their products to fight the virus. They have supplemented these efforts with significant donations of funds and medical products to charities, nonprofits and those combatting the virus on the ground.
While the current focus is on COVID-19, we also should take pride that New Jersey ranks first in the country in developing heart and stroke drugs, and second in developing cancer drugs. Furthermore, nearly 50% of all FDA drug approvals in 2017 were awarded to New Jersey companies.
There is ample substantiation for the power of this innovation engine. Recent nominees and recipients of the Edison Patent Awards that are conferred annually by the R&D Council of New Jersey reinforce the intellectual horsepower of residents in our state. These awards recognize major intellectual property achievements across a range of disciplines that culminated in the awarding of U.S. patents to New Jersey companies and research universities. Noteworthy examples demonstrate the impressive breadth of their work:
- The Science & Technology Medal was given posthumously to the former director of the Rutgers Waksman Institute of Microbiology, Dr. Joachim Messing, who invented “shotgun” sequencing of DNA, an approach that vastly empowered the advance of the genomic era of biology.
- An Edison Award was given to a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary, Ethicon, that developed a hemostatic material with properties that significantly enhance the absorption of bleeding during surgery.
- A group of Merck scientists received Edison Awards for the discovery of drug product formulations and methods of use for treating various cancers and chronic infections using Keytruda.
- This wider lens makes it clear that through our companies and universities, New Jersey is effectively leveraging its proud innovation legacy as a springboard propelling us toward a better, healthier and safer future.
Dean J. Paranicas is president and chief executive officer of the HealthCare Institute of New Jersey.
Anthony S. Cicatiello is president of the R&D Council of New Jersey.