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New Jersey Eyes Stem-Cell Leadership Role as Voters Await $450M Election Day Referendum

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New Jersey voters will decide in November whether the state should borrow $450 million for stem-cell research, just as the state has begun spending $270 million it set aside for the same purpose last January — all part of Gov. Jon Corzine’s effort to propel New Jersey into a stem-cell research leader.
 
But New Jersey, which plans to spend part of the funds to create a Stem Cell Institute, is finding more competition for its stem-cell goals from neighboring states, especially New York and Massachusetts, which each have bold plans for the science.
 
Corzine will sign before the end of July a measure placing the bond referendum on the ballot for the state’s Nov. 6 elections, spokeswoman Lilo Stainton told BioRegion News this last week.
 
The state Assembly approved the measure by a 50-27 margin, and the state Senate approved it 31-3. Both houses are controlled by Democrats, and Corzine, also a Democrat, has long promised to propel New Jersey into a leading state for stem-cell research.
 
The votes marked the second time in one year that New Jersey’s top elected officials set aside millions for stem-cell work. Corzine and state lawmakers agreed to spend the $270 million for new facilities statewide last December.
 
“The governor wants New Jersey to step into the breach and lead the way on this issue,” Stainton said. “I don’t know if there’s a dollar amount attached to that idea.”
 
Dollars aside, New Jersey is finding more competition for its stem-cell leadership goals from neighboring states. In April, New York state officials created a $100 million Empire State Stem Cell Trust and approved another $50 million a year over 10 fiscal years for stem cell research, starting in 2008-09.
 
The following month in Massachusetts, Gov. Deval Patrick unveiled a $1 billion, 10-year biotech plan that includes an end to restrictions imposed under his predecessor, Mitt Romney.
 
Romney’s ethical qualms about embryonic stem-cell work echo those made by New Jersey Right to Life, which has also faulted the state’s stem-cell push on economic grounds, calling it a potential taxpayer boondoggle.
 
New Jersey newspapers have reported that the group’s executive director, Marie Tasy, is considering a legal challenge to the referendum. Tasy did not return a call from BioRegion News.
 
NJRL’s argument clashes with a study released in 2005 by a key player in New Jersey’s stem-cell effort, state-funded Rutgers University. Professor Joseph Seneca and Will Irving of Rutgers’ Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy projected that over 20 years, stem-cell research would generate $1.4 billion in new economic activity, approximately 20,000 new jobs, and $71.9 million in new state revenue from taxes and royalties.
 
The state on June 28 adopted a $33.5 billion budget for fiscal 2008, which began July 1.
 
The referendum is likely to pass based on growing public support, if five years of polling by Quinnipiac University is accurate.
 
In a 2006 poll, 73 percent of respondents claimed to support the concept of stem-cell research compared with 15 percent who did not. These statistics were up from 71 percent and 17 percent, respectively, in 2005, and 67 percent and 25 percent, respectively, in 2001.
 
Voters were more split when asked about specific stem-cell proposals, but the gap between supporters and opponents grew between 47 percent in favor and 42 percent against in 2005 when a $250 million plan was advanced by then-acting Gov. Richard Codey, and last year, when a 53-percent to 37-percent majority backed a $380 million proposal Corzine made at the time.
 
New Jersey’s $450 million referendum — $45 million a year for 10 years — will fund research projects statewide. While spending details and the decision-making process have yet to be set, Stainton said Corzine is likely to want peer-review by scientists rather than political appointees.
 
Political sway in state research spending has been an issue in recent years, especially at the state-run University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. Last year two administrators resigned after a federal monitor’s report showed that UMDNJ awarded no-bid, no-work contracts to politically connected allies and lobbied state officials on their behalf.
 
US District Court Judge Herbert Stern wrote that the school " was used, by and large, as a political patronage pit.”
 
Peer review was how New Jersey’s Science and Technology Commission recently divvied up more than $10 million for stem-cell projects announced June 20, which was the second piece of the initial $270 million the state allocated for stem cell research in January. New Jersey spent the first piece nine days earlier when the state Economic Development Authority approved about $9.2 million in “pre-development” funding toward engineering and design work for a 16-story research building in New Brunswick that will serve as the home base of the state’s Stem Cell Institute.
 
A commission spokeswoman would not discuss the agency’s role in spending referendum money, referring questions to Corzine’s office.
 
The institute, a collaboration of UMDNJ’s Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and Rutgers, will ultimately receive $150 million of the $270 million to enable the New Brunswick Development Corporation to begin developing the Stem Cell Institute. The institute will then raise another $350 million in private capital to finish the building.
 
The facility will be named for actor Christopher Reeve and rise on Little Albany Street, next to the Amtrak Northeast Corridor elevated rail line.
 
Major construction will start at the beginning of 2008 and it is expected to be completed in the spring of 2011, according to Glenn Phillips, a spokesman for the authority.
 
Kenneth Breslauer, dean and vice president of life and health sciences at Rutgers, told BioRegion News the institute is searching for a director who can draw additional stem-cell researchers to New Jersey. The search is being headed by Wise Young, chair of Rutgers’ department of cell biology and neuroscience, and the founding director of Rutgers’ W. M. Keck Center for Collaborative Neuroscience.
 
“We’re hopeful that we will have, in addition to a director, at least teams of up to 100 or so researchers within the parts of the laboratory in the building, as well as hundreds more in the campus laboratories across the state,” Breslauer said in an interview.
 
Rutgers and its partners now carry out stem cell research in Piscataway, NJ, at a 5,000-square-foot facility within the division of life sciences.
 
Breslauer said the New Brunswick building would anchor an institute that would carry out research through collaborations with biotech companies as well as within satellite facilities at its member schools. The new facility would expand existing academic programs and allow new ones, incurring operating costs projected at between $30 million and $50 million a year, which would be funded from the proposed $450 million bond offering for its first seven to 10 years.
 
“It would be more than an expansion,” Breslauer said. “It would be a true launch of an entire statewide integrated program. It’s a true qualitative transition into putting New Jersey on the national and international map as a leader in this new biomedical venture.”
 
In addition to the New Brunswick facility, the $270 million also includes:
  • $50 million for the Robert Wood Johnson medical School at Camden and the Cancer Institute of New Jersey;
  • $50 million for adult stem cell research facilities at New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark;
  • $10 million for the Garden State Cancer Center in Belleville; and
  • $10 million for the Eli Katz Umbilical Cord Blood program in Allendale.
New Jersey’s stem-cell effort is also a top priority for the state’s main biotech industry group. With the referendum in mind, the Biotechnology Council of New Jersey will step up its promotion of the field’s successes and importance to the state’s economy.
 

“The governor wants New Jersey to step into the breach and lead the way on this issue. I don’t know if there’s a dollar amount attached to that idea.”

“That’s part of our intent: to get the information out there, and let state government know that what they’re doing is working, and then to build public support, not only for the stem cell initiative but for the industry in general,” said Debbie Hart, president of the biotech council. “It’s certainly our hope that [the initiative] will allow additional investment in biotech companies as well as strictly stem-cell companies, that our companies will grow and new companies will come here.”

 
The council on June 21 joined Deloitte & Touche USA in releasing a 16-page report highlighting a three-year increase in biotech employment throughout New Jersey, as well as several projections it said underscored biotech’s growing contribution to the state’s economy.
 
According to the report, entitled “New Jersey Biotechnology … A RobustState of Health,” New Jersey’s biotech workforce grew 28 percent to 10,071 workers in 2006 from 7,834 workers in 2003.
 
The report also projected that those employees indirectly supported 9,389 jobs at vendor companies located in the Garden State, while 7,637 jobs were supported by biotech worker spending.
 
“We have every reason to believe it will continue to grow, but as we caution people in the state, whether it’s the governor or the Legislature, we cannot rest on our laurels,” Hart said. “There’s lots of competition out there, and it’s coming everywhere, from California to more locally. We definitely to need to keep an eye and make sure we’re doing more good things. There’s more that can be done.”
 
The report also found that the state’s 235 biotech companies and their vendors spent $3.3 billion on goods and services last year; that biotech jobs generated $80 million in income tax; and that biotech companies in New Jersey employ on average 58 people.
 
The study gathered data through interviews with executives of biotech companies as well as from Dun & Bradstreet and OneSource Business Browser.
 
Not included in the council’s survey were employment figures from the pharmaceutical industry, which has contracted during that time due to mergers and their resultant consolidations and R&D cutbacks.
 
A 2005 report by the state’s main industry group, the Healthcare Institute of New Jersey, showed its 23 member companies at that time had cut 5 percent from their payrolls, which declined to to 60,274 in 2004 from 63,447 in 2003. That number rose to 61,971 in 2006, according to a report released June 14 by HINJ and Deloitte.
 
Read “Challenges and Opportunities: New Jersey and the Pharmaceutical and Medical Technology Industry by clicking here.
 
Neither report broke out pharma or medical-technology figures, but did furnish other numbers promoting the sector’s impact on the state’s economy. The new report calculated HINJ’s members generated a total $26.5 billion in economic activity through direct jobs, created 86,797 spin-off jobs, and accounted for $671.4 million in sales and income tax impact on New Jersey, up 3.3 percent from 2005.
 
The study is HINJ’s second report in two months. On May 16 it released a 36-page report based on an online survey last year in which 15 of its 22 member pharmaceutical and medical-technology companies projected “modest growth across all functional areas during the next four years.”
 
That report, called the “Workforce Needs of New Jersey’s Pharmaceutical and Medical Technology Industry,” did not quantify that growth; HINJ President Bob Franks did not respond to a request for comment from BioRegion News.
 
Survey respondents also pinpointed six categories in which they foresaw the highest demand for workers through 2011, including product/marketing managers, clinical scientists, regulatory affairs managers, medical doctors, biostatisticians, and engineers.
 
”The distribution of employment in the state by functional area is not expected to change during the next four years,” the report concluded. “However, companies report that they have the most difficulty in hiring employees for positions in marketing, basic research, and clinical development.”

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