PharmFest 2012 Focuses on Key Issues and Trends in Pharmaceutical Life Sciences

Photo: Mike Peters

Celgene Corporation CEO Robert Hugin

Despite exciting advances in drug treatments to fight diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and AIDS, the pharmaceutical industry faces both financial and technological challenges amid a dramatically changing health care landscape.

That was the message that several hundred industry leaders, scientists, academics, and students heard at PharmFest 2012, New Jersey’s leading industry and academic forum on emerging issues and trends in pharmaceutical life sciences held on April 3 at Montclair State University.

PharmFest 2012 was jointly sponsored by Montclair State University and the HealthCare Institute of New Jersey. The theme this year, “The Changing Landscape,” reflected how the pharmaceutical life sciences industry was evolving.

Commenting on how the industry’s relationship with academe is also evolving, Dean Robert Prezant of Montclair State’s College of Science and Mathematics said “As the industry is redefined, and as I have had confirmed at this conference, we are looking towards even closer relationships between pharmaceutical companies and academia, especially in terms of shared and mutually interesting research.”

New Jersey Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno opened the daylong biennial conference with upbeat comments about how the state “has been and always will be the medicine chest of the world,” and noted its determined efforts to attract and retain pharmaceutical companies.

New Jersey’s pharmaceutical industry accounts for nearly 14 percent of the nation’s pharmaceutical jobs. The state is also the nation’s fourth largest biotechnology center, with 124 biotechnology companies employing more than 8,000 people.

Citing New Jersey’s recent success in keeping Bayer HealthCare in the state, Guadagno told companies that they should “stay in New Jersey, grow in New Jersey, and raise the next generation” of their firms here.

Keynote speaker Robert Hugin, chairman and chief executive officer of Celgene Corporation, spoke of how health care in America is “in the midst of a transformational change” as a result of economic issues, uncertainties over health care reform, and societal health trends.

He said there was a critical need for innovation and a spirit of collaboration among academia, industry, and the government in addressing health care issues. Without such cooperation, he said, “We’ll fail to capture the incredible potential and promise of the research that is out there to make such a meaningful difference in the lives of patients.”

Breakout sessions at the conference featured panels of industry executives and experts, and covered topics such as “Overcoming Today's Pharma Challenge: Building on Past Successes with a Focus on Science,” “People and Partnerships, New Trends in Pharmaceutical Sales and Market Research,” and “Small Molecule and Biologic Drug Discovery and Development.”

In a session on “Start-up Enterprises and the Pharmaceutical Sector,” panelists talked about such fields as business incubation, nuclear medicine, electronic health records, integrated project management, drug development, and the role that life science start-ups represent in the biotech value chain.

“If you’re thinking about starting a business, get help from the New Jersey Business Incubation Network,” advised Michel Bitritto, director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission Business Accelerator, one of the state’s 12 business incubators.

Its facilities in Lyndhurst, New Jersey include shared conference rooms, furnished offices, mail service, Internet access, and centralized phone service, among other amenities. “We will take a client and give them training, help with business plans, grant writing support, networking and entrepreneurship development,” Bitritto said.

View photos from PharmFest 2012 at Flickr.com.