“As always, tonight is dedicated to you, New Jersey’s remarkable life sciences ecosystem making the dreams of patients around the world come true,” BioNJ President and CEO Debbie Hart told a packed room gathered at the East Brunswick Hilton for the organization’s 30th anniversary of the Annual Dinner Meeting & Innovation Celebration. “In 2022, nearly 50% of new FDA [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] approvals came from companies with a footprint in New Jersey, officially continuing our legacy as the ‘Medicine Chest of the World.’”
The annual event celebrates the state’s life science industry and honors medical innovation. Hart said the program is dedicated to patients, innovators, advocates, policymakers and service providers who are working together to bring new therapies and cures to those around the world in need.
The dinner featured the passing of the baton from outgoing BioNJ chair, and Insmed chair and CEO, Will Lewis to incoming leader Amadou Diarra, senior vice president, Global Policy, Advocacy and Government Affairs, Bristol Myers Squibb.
It also featured several honoree traditions, including recognizing the 19 companies that received FDA approvals last year; presenting the Dr. Sol J. Barer Award for Vision, Innovation and Leadership to Dr. David Perlin, chief scientific officer and executive vice president of the Hackensack Meridian Center for Discovery for Innovation (CDI); and awarding the Heart of BioNJ Award to Maria Kefalas, founder of The Calliope Joy Foundation.
During the event program, Gov. Phil Murphy congratulated BioNJ on the 30th anniversary of the annual dinner.
“Since its inception, BioNJ has brought together industry leaders from across the life sciences ecosystem and has promoted policies that facilitate progress. BioNJ has made significant contributions to driving medical innovation coming from our state, which is absolutely critical to New Jersey’s economy,” said Murphy. “Special recognition is in order for tonight’s distinguished honorees. Their dedication to advancement is admirable, and I join with all those in attendance in applauding their service.”
“Now, I’m as tired as you are of mentioning COVID, but it bears repeating, I think. Because as we look back and think about what BioNJ has accomplished, I think we all will mark this period in time,” Lewis said in his remarks as outgoing chair. “The greatest organizations are created in the moments of greatest adversity. And I would submit to everyone that this timeframe was BioNJ’s finest hour.”
“We’re all working toward the same goal of bringing much-needed treatments to patients around the world,” said Diarra after taking the baton. “And I really want the focus to be on those patients and on the keyword, which is humanity. From emerging startups to long-established global organizations, and those who support us, each and every one of you helps to bolster New Jersey’s vibrant life science community and serve the many patients counting on us around the world.”
Perlin – this year’s recipient of the Dr. Sol J. Barer Award – has served as founding chief scientific officer of the CDI since its inception in 2019 to address unmet medical needs in infectious diseases, cancers, behavioral health, autoimmune and neurocognitive disorders, as well as other acute and chronic health problems.
He was honored for his innovation and discoveries, particularly during the pandemic.
“Dr. Perlin is an exceptional leader whose expertise and dedication elevates and advances our health network mission to transform health care and serve as a leader of positive change,” said Robert Garrett, chief executive officer of Hackensack Meridian Health, in a statement. “He is anticipating the incredible changes coming in the health care landscape – and finding ways to keep ahead of the curve.”
“David is a colleague who is making a difference in all the best ways,” said Sol Barer, chairman of the board of Teva Pharmaceuticals, founder of Celgene, and whom the prestigious award is named for. “His is a mind which strives constantly for excellence, and he is relentless in his pursuits.”
“We are thrilled to honor Dr. Perlin with the 2023 Dr. Sol J. Barer Award for Vision, Innovation and Leadership for his tireless work on behalf of patients, medical innovation and New Jersey’s ever-growing life sciences ecosystem,” said Hart. “Driven and passionate, Dr. Perlin is changing the lives of patients around the world …tackling the unimaginable. He is New Jersey’s own innovation superhero.”
As Perlin accepted the honor, he described himself as an academic entrepreneur who aims to build and create value by engaging in high-risk, high-return science.
“So, what does value mean to me?” Perlin asked. “It means improving the health of our patients and creating financial and commercial success by delivering innovations to the clinic in the form of novel medical solutions. That’s the value. So, the vision for CDI was to change the way academic science is engaged in driving solutions for unmet medical needs.”
Perlin said the job is to advance to the next standard of care now, adding that CDI was embedded into the health care environment and not a traditional academic environment because you have to go where the disease is to be able to impact patients.
“To be successful, we need to significantly alter the standard of care,” Perlin explained. “We have to do it efficiently with clinical and commercial buy-in. But, most importantly, we need to do this rapidly. And that’s the keyword. Because as BioNJ says, ‘patients can’t wait.’”
He added that to do this, action must be bold and not incremental, taking on important and big health care challenges with partnerships and stakeholders all pulling in the same direction together.
“We have an opportunity to make New Jersey, or to continue to have New Jersey to be a centerpiece, for this new paradigm in academic science entrepreneurship that seamlessly engages clinical commercial partners, biotech, pharma, device manufacturers, diagnostic companies, health care systems to drive innovative solutions,” said Perlin. “So let’s create broad value for all of our partners, and in turn, improve the health of the region, the nation, and the world.”
Perlin closed his stirring speech by encouraging the collapsing of silos and partnering to take on big problems to make a difference that is measurable and sustainable.
“This is our charge, and we must meet it. The CDI will continue to innovate, push the boundaries of actionable science for all to benefit. And, in turn, we will create value,” said Perlin. “It is the legacy of New Jersey, from Edison to Bell Labs to Celgene to Becton Dickinson to many other companies and industry leaders who have changed the way we live.”
“Let’s innovate and be bold and let’s come together to do this,” he closed.i