Debbie Hart, host of the upcoming BioPartnering conference, which is the first of its kind in central New Jersey, notes that the pharmaceutical model has changed and more and more companies are looking outside to the proliferating biotech companies for innovations to fill their pipelines. Given the concentration of pharma and biotechs in New Jersey, Hart says it made sense to do a partnering conference here, even though she hopes to attract interest from around the world.

Companies sending representatives include Merck, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Sanofi-Aventis, GlaxoSmithKline, and Novo Nordisk. Hart expects 125 to 150 different companies to attend. “We are creating a unique opportunity where there is already a unique opportunity,” says Hart. “New Jersey is the home of big pharma, and we are creating an experience that will make it easier to sleep at home at night.”

Hart attributes New Jersey’s draw for biotechs to a host of factors: its talented people; the great opportunities for collaboration with the big pharmaceutical companies located in the state; a time zone that makes it possible for people to do business with California and the United Kingdom on the same day; New Jersey’s tremendous resources, including four research universities: Princeton, Rutgers, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, and New Jersey Institute of Technology; its proximity to New York City, including Wall Street, and to Philadelphia, and even to Washington and the National Institutes of Health via a quick train ride. “It is a tremendous strategic location,” says Hart.

As the biotech industry matures, Hart sees the pharma companies playing more and more important roles as commercialization experts, but she has seen partnerships at all stages in the development process. One is to support early-stage science.

“If a pharma company is in the diabetes or Alzheimer’s space and sees an early-stage biotech doing something that intrigues them or that they think has great promise or that they want to capture so they won’t become a competitor later on, it will ask, ‘How can we work together?’” explains Hart. “It can go from soup to nuts and most likely will extend over a number of years. The biotech may get upfront payments and then payments along the way as it shows progress.” For example the biotech may get a milestone if it brings a compound into the clinic or if it raises additional capital.

BioNJ brings people together for education and networking, for example, through a training grant from the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development that provides classes in areas like good manufacturing processes, project management, strategic planning, and Microsoft Access through the New Jersey Community College Consortium for Workforce and Economic Development. BioNJ provides services that help advance biotechs, like joint purchasing agreements to get discounts on laboratory and office supplies.

Hart sees the New Jersey state government as being very supportive of the biotech industry. It was Karen Franzini, CEO of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, who suggested the creation of BioNJ. One supportive state program is the Garden State Life Sciences Venture Fund, now fully deployed, in which a venture capital company, Quaker Bio Ventures, manages $10 million of state funds as well as $30 million of its own to invest in New Jersey life sciences companies.

Another program, conceived by biotech executives and accepted by the state government, is the technology business tax certificate transfer program. This program allows unprofitable technology and biotechnology companies to raise cash by selling New Jersey net operating losses and research and development tax credits to other unaffiliated New Jersey businesses for at least 75 percent of their value. The $60 million available annually through the program is open to expanding companies with fewer than 225 employees that have at least 75 percent of their workforce in New Jersey. The company must also have intellectual property. The cash benefit to the company may be used for general growth capital, and the company must commit to remain in New Jersey for the upcoming year. The profitable company that buys the losses at a discount gets a tax write off on them.

Hart sees major challenges facing the biotech and pharma industries. “For biotech, it’s all about the money, always has been, and always will be,” she says. “It takes 10 to 15 years and $1 billion on average to bring a drug to market.” Given the costs, she continues, companies need multiple sources to help them along, and she is concerned that, in trying to balance the state budget, the governor may get rid of programs that have nurtured the industry while bringing in more income than they cost the state. “We think we have been able to show that if these two programs are cut, for a total of $40 million, the end result to the state budget will be to lose more money than they will save,” she says.

The technology business tax certificate transfer program has a budget of $60 million, but by 2011 that could be cut in half. “We have been able to demonstrate that the program delivers $15 for every $1 spent, and we believe this is a conservative estimate,” says Hart.

Another cut, of $10 million, would eliminate the New Jersey Commission on Science and Technology, which, says Hart, has been a source of growth for the biotech industry in New Jersey since 1985. It supports several programs, for example, some of New Jersey’s business incubators. “The incubators are growing jobs and creating economic activity in New Jersey,” says Hart. “Last year alone they created 900 new jobs.”

The commission also pays two years of salary for postdoctoral fellows at biotech companies who, in many cases, are eventually hired into the companies for full-time positions. According to Hart’s figures, in 2009 the commission brought back $2.50 directly to the state budget for every dollar spent, hence its $10 million budget brought in $25 million to the state budget, and this does not include corporate business taxes.

Hart received a bachelor’s in communications from the College of New Jersey in 1981 and a master’s in public relations from the Newhouse School at Syracuse.

Her father was an undercover detective for the Mercer County Sheriff’s office, and her mother was purchasing manager with the Office of Administrative Law for the State of New Jersey.

Early on, Hart worked in public affairs, but otherwise she has worked entirely with associations. She owns an association management company, Association Associates Inc.

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