BioNJ held its 23rd annual gala dinner last week and presented awards for key drug approvals and achievements in the life sciences industry.A least half of the drug approvals in 2015 were from the Garden State, CEO and President Debbie Hart told the crowd of 700.
“We are so proud of New Jersey’s robust life sciences ecosystem that was responsible for more than 50 percent of all new FDA drug approvals in 2015, reinforcing the fact that New Jersey is the drug development capital of the world,” Hart said. “Our members are helping patients live longer, better lives while lessening the burden of illness and disease on society. We are pleased to celebrate their important work and dedication in this way.”
Government officials who attended include U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance (R-Flemington), state Sen. Robert Gordon (D-Fair Lawn) and former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy. Lance presented an award to a 7-year-old rare disease patient, Max Schill, and the two then honored 16 innovator companies that were responsible for 27 new drug approvals by the FDA in 2015.
The 16 include Allergan, Aprecia, Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., Eisai, Eli Lilly and Co., Genmab, GlaxoSmithKline, Janssen Biotech, Merck & Co., Novartis Pharmaceuticals and Sandoz, Novo Nordisk, Otsuka America Pharmaceutical, Pfizer, Sanofi, Taiho Oncology and The Medicines Company.
Clive Meanwell, founder and CEO of The Medicines Company, was the recipient of the Dr. Sol J. Barer Award for Vision, Innovation and Leadership for his role in building the company’s reputation, since 1996, into one that has developed “game-changers,” according to BioNJ.
The evening ended with a speech from Kennedy, who discussed his personal and political journey with discrimination against mental illnesses and addiction. He was responsible for passing the Mental Health Parity Act while serving in Congress. He has since continued his focus on brain diseases with the Kennedy Forum and One Mind for Research.
Kennedy was candid in his 40-minute speech, sharing details of the behind-the-scenes political game, and anecdotes of congressmen who would support his work behind closed doors and then vote against the bill he was working so hard to pass.
“They all said, ’Patrick, I don’t come from the same part of the country you come from. In my part of the country these are still seen as moral issues, not medical issues. They are still seen as character flaws, not chemistry flaws,” he said.
Kennedy spoke to the crowd about its efforts to keep the concentration of biotech in the state, but also gave a bird’s-eye view.
“As you are trying to do here in New Jersey by trying to keep this incredible concentration of biotech here, we in the world need to continue to make sure the United States” leads in this space, Kennedy said, adding his compliments to a high-wage, high-employment industry that is the “dream” of any state or country to host.
Kennedy continued by acknowledging his “hitting the proverbial jackpot” in being born into the famous political family, and being able to work on issues that matter to the country.
“What we fundamentally need is political will. That is the missing ingredient. If we had the political will to solve this problem, we would get it done. I absolutely believe that this is not only the right thing to do for our family members, but it’s the right thing to do for our economy. Outside of Hollywood, this is it in terms of US. creativity and innovation,” Kennedy said.