Annual BioNJ Dinner Celebrates Innovation, Life Sciences

Annual BioNJ Dinner Celebrates Innovation, Life Sciences 1000 535 Morris County Economic Development Corporation (MCEDC)

Annual BioNJ Dinner Celebrates Innovation, Life Sciences


BioNJ hosted its 31st Annual Dinner Meeting & Innovation Celebration Thursday evening, bringing together industry leaders, representatives and key stakeholders from the Garden State’s life science and innovation sectors.

Held at the Hilton East Brunswick, the event was the largest to date. At the top, BioNJ President and CEO Debbie Hart noted that more than 700 people registered for this year’s dinner, breaking records across every metric.

“Tonight, we come together to express our deep gratitude for New Jersey’s outstanding life sciences ecosystem – fulfilling patients’ dreams around the globe,” said Hart. “Once more, New Jersey’s impact is undeniable – as more than 50% of all novel FDA [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] approvals in 2023 emanated from companies with a footprint in New Jersey. Many of you – reaffirming our identity as the ‘Medicine Chest of the World.’

“In this room, we have the innovators, the visionaries, and the dedicated individuals who contribute each day to making a difference for patients,” she said. Hart thanked the attendees for their collaborative spirit, which she said defines New Jersey’s brilliant life sciences community.

A ‘booming’ industry

Following that opening address, she introduced Gov. Phil Murphy.

“From his earliest days on the campaign trail, our governor has unwaveringly and unequivocally advocated for building an innovation economy – and supporting New Jersey’s life sciences industry,” said Hart, who noted the governor’s efforts on the HELIX project in New Brunswick, the Evergreen Innovation Fund, and the Commission on Science, Innovation and Technology (CSIT), which Hart chairs. “To his most recent declaration of the AI Moonshot. And to his win, just this weekend – on New Jersey being named as the host of the 2026 World Cup Final. Our governor has been an innovator, a visionary, and a leader.”

“Most of what I have to say tonight, frankly, can be boiled down to two words – thank you,” Murphy opened. “With the help of everyone in this room, from our leading biopharmaceutical professionals to our amazing patient advocates. Today, as Debbie said, New Jersey’s life sciences industry is booming.”

Murphy stressed the importance of the work being done by BioNJ to not only advocate for the state’s life sciences industry, but also advocate for patients who can’t wait for cutting edge medical care.

“Just a few years ago, we took pride in the fact that nearly one-of-three novel drug approvals came from research being done in New Jersey. Pretty impressive, right? Well, today it’s even better,” said Murphy. “Last year, New Jersey-associated companies accounted for more than 50% of all novel drug approvals. And that rapid growth really speaks to the crucial role that BioNJ plays in bringing together industry leaders, emerging entrepreneurs, and, of course, the patients – who rely on our state to maintain its status, as Debbie said, as the ‘Medicine Chest of the World.’”

Welcoming innovation

The governor promised his administration is moving full-speed ahead to build out New Jersey’s innovation ecosystem. He pointed to some of those efforts mentioned by Hart as well as the SciTech Scity project in Jersey City, and more.

“In short, we are rolling out the welcoming mat for any entrepreneur eager to revolutionize health care,” said Murphy. “And it goes without saying they will be in great company within the halls of hubs like the HELIX. In fact, in December, we received word that the legendary Bell Labs will be relocating from its home up in Murray Hill to a new facility at the Helix. And that outcome, by the way, was far from a sure thing. In fact, Bell Labs looked all over the country for their new home. But all roads lead them back to New Jersey.”

Murphy rhetorically asked why.

“Because the smartest minds know that the future is being built right here in the Garden State. And that is a fact. And that is not just because of our highly talented workforce, although it is comprised of more scientists and engineers per square mile than anywhere else in the world,” said Murphy. “It is not just because of our coveted location, either – even though, we are smack dab in the middle of the Northeast Corridor. Today, New Jersey is building the future because we are embracing the spirit of collaboration that has always paved the way for groundbreaking discoveries.”

‘The possibilities that might be’

As he wound down his speech, the governor spoke about the efforts in AI.

“Just last month, in my annual State of the State address, I announced that New Jersey is launching an AI Moonshot. With this endeavor, we are encouraging our state’s top minds to work together in pioneering a series of AI-powered breakthroughs – over the next decade that will change the lives, literally, of billions of people for the better,” said Murphy.

According to the governor, the vision of this initiative is for the state’s government to be both a resource and a catalyst to inspire innovators, industry leaders, and institutions of higher education to shape the future of generative AI.

“And, ultimately, to establish New Jersey as the home base for AI-powered gamechangers,” Murphy continued. “Just this past December, by example, of how we hope to achieve this goal. We announced plans to create an AI Innovation Hub, in partnership with Princeton University. It will bring together trailblazers and thought leaders to explore the potential generative AI – and to support research & development in this realm. And, frankly, answer a lot of the tough questions that are associated with generative AI.

Murphy said that together, we are going to harness generative AI responsibly – not to disrupt lives or displace workers, but to do the opposite.

“And it goes without saying that we want BioNJ to be smack dab front and center in this conversation,” said Murphy. “As you all know better than most, generative AI has generational potential to revolutionize everything from medical research to diagnosing patients – to even delivering care.”

The governor concluded by borrowing a phrase from Lupus Warrior Shanelle Gabriel, who spoke and performed an inspirational Spoken Word at the event, and who the governor met backstage prior to speaking.

“Today, with generative AI – and Shanelle, I hope I get this right – we have the power to ‘manifest magic through science and turn what might be into what will be,’” said Murphy. “That’s a great phrase. In that spirit, I look forward to supporting you in all of your efforts to transform all the possibilities that might be – into new cures and treatments for tomorrow.”

Awards and honors

Following that speech, Hart presented Murphy with a number of gifts on behalf of BioNJ, including, fittingly a soccer ball – to mark the major World Cup news – emblazoned with the BioNJ logo.

The event featured the passing of the baton from Board Chair Amadou Diarra, senior vice president, Global Policy, Advocacy & Government Affairs, Bristol Myers Squibb, to Incoming Chair Dr. Emer Leahy, president and CEO, PsychoGenics.

A keynote address was given by award-winning photographer Rick Guidotti, who paid tribute to patients from around the world.

There were also a number of honors distributed, such as the 2024 Heart of BioNJ Awards, recognizing extraordinary patient advocates to:

  • Diarra
  • Lisa Salberg, founder and CEO, Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Association
  • Mark Peters, senior director, Patient Advocacy, Genmab

The 2024 Innovator Award honorees included:

  • AbbVie
  • Acrotech Biopharma
  • Amicus Therapeutics
  • Acadia Pharmaceuticals
  • Bausch & Lomb
  • Bristol Myers Squibb
  • CorMedix
  • Daiichi Sankyo
  • Eisai
  • Eli Lilly
  • Evive Biotech
  • Gamida Cell
  • GC Biopharma USA
  • Genmab
  • GSK
  • Ipsen
  • Iveric BIO
  • Johnson & Johnson
  • Lexicon Pharmaceuticals
  • Melinta Therapeutics
  • Nestle Health Science
  • Novartis
  • Novo Nordisk
  • Octapharma
  • Protalix Biotherapeutics
  • Pfizer
  • Pharming
  • Regeneron
  • Sanofi
  • Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health USA and Zoetis for FDA Animal Drug approvals

Article courtesy of NJ Biz Magazine.