SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY

Biotech companies are key to the state’s innovation economy

BY Briana Vannozzi, Correspondent |

Across the state, nearly 120,000 scientists are developing biologically advanced materials with the potential to change the course of our health, environment and even the foods we eat. It’s expanding New Jersey’s reputation from the “medicine chest of the world” to a hub for the life sciences.

“We already have 12 of the top 20 biopharmaceutical companies with a presence here in New Jersey. We have 12 of the top 20 medical device companies here in New Jersey,” said Brian Sabina, senior vice president of economic transformation for the New Jersey Economic Development Authority.

Biotechnology companies are in the midst of a major expansion — nearly 400 are scattered throughout the state. Many start and stay at the Technology Center of New Jersey Research Park in North Brunswick, an incubator program through the Economic Development Authority that offers lab and office space for emerging companies.

“The governor announced recently a new rent initiative that allows new startups to get into collaborative work spaces early and to get up to 50 percent off their first nine months of rent to be part of this ecosystem,” Sabina said.

“The motivation for our move was not just about space, it was about talent, and in this sense New Jersey truly excels. It’s got some of the best universities in the country. It’s got the highest concentration of scientists and engineers,” said Andras Forgacs, co-founder and CEO or Modern Meadow.

Forgacs gave budding entrepreneurs at the research park a fireside chat. His biotech company Modern Meadow is based at the old Hoffman La Roche Nutley campus. They’re creating a whole new genre of materials for consumers that are inspired by leather.

“That are made through a process of biofabfrication. Biofabrication is an integration of biology, material science and design. We’re able to take proteins from nature and to make an entirely new category of materials,” Forgacs said.

The state says for every dollar the biotech industry brings in, it circulating approximately four more to support other sectors — spurring the so-called innovation economy that Gov. Phil Murphy wants to grow.

“From a global perspective, it’s critically important that patients get the therapies and the cures that they need. And this is the industry that’s making it happen — the life sciences industry,” said Debbie Hart, president and CEO of BioNJ. “The number of jobs, and the tax revenues, the philanthropy — all of the important things that the industry delivers to New Jersey’s economy are just really critical.”

This, as they say, is just the beginning.