BIO18: Merck's Ebola lessons; New Jersey vies for biotech jobs
Tuesday's BIO International Convention featured a new report tracking the growth of biopharma jobs, Merck reflecting on lessons learned from the 2014 Ebola epidemic and New Jersey's efforts to get its mojo back.
Journalist and breast cancer survivor Robin Roberts kicked off Day Two with a talk on her struggles, attributing her survival to work done by BIO member companies.
Later in the day, members of the media (including BioPharma Dive) took to the stage to talk about the new era of biotech journalism and the state of the industry.
Merck: Better preparation needed for epidemics
In 2014 an Ebola outbreak had Merck & Co. assessing whether it could rush a vaccine to market amid the crisis. The vaccine was originally engineered by Public Health Agency of Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory, which in turn licensed it to NewLink Genetics. Merck then licensed the vaccine from the biotech and worked with a number of government agencies and academic institutions to bring the vaccine forward.
"This was about aiding a public health situation and doing it on the most expeditious of timelines," said President of Merck Vaccines Michael Nally during a panel at the BIO International convention. "Within that, partnership was hugely important. This was not a Merck-only effort."
Nally acknowledged much of the private sector was caught off guard.
"We realized we weren't well-prepared, as a company or an industry, to handle these kinds of threats," Nally said. "We had to step back and recognize that in certain public health situations we could help and in others, where the opportunity cost was too great, we probably weren't the best partner."
Having a set standardized protocol already in place, as well as up to date, functioning manufacturing facilities, and dialogue with regulators are key to handling an outbreak in a rapid fashion, he said.
"Importantly, focus is a big part of this equation. We have to be focused and so do our partners on getting the job done and getting this into people's arms. What we've seen with a lot of these emerging threats is that focus tends to wax and wane as the threat increases or decreases…Ultimately the real goal of any of these efforts is to have a vaccine licensed that is ready for the next outbreak," he said.
The Merck Vaccines team is using the lessons they learned from the 2014 outbreak to once again respond to a health threat. Another Ebola outbreak was declared in May 2018 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Merck shipped 4,320 doses of its investigational Ebola Zaire vaccine V920 to the World Health Organization that month.
That's trillion with a T
A new report on the state of jobs in the U.S. bioscience space was released at the convention on Tuesday, showing the industry has reached $2 trillion in annual economic impact as of 2016.
The industry now employs 1.74 million people, with an average annual salary of $98,961. Looked at both directly and indirectly, the estimate is 8 million jobs. The U.S. bioscience industry has grown about 19% since 2001, with research, testing and lab jobs have increased the most, growing nearly 63%.
California, Massachusetts and Texas added the most jobs from 2014 to 2016, increasing the number of bioscience jobs by more than 5,000 during the two-year period.
Innovation clearly isn't dead; patents related to bioscience increased 5% with 2017 seeing a new high of 27,000 patents awarded to U.S. inventors.
Growth in the industry is being driven by the large influx of cash. Venture capitalists contributed $66 billion from 2014 through 2017, with biotech investment outpacing all other sub-sectors in the space, including medical supplies, healthcare technology systems and therapeutic devices.
New Jersey seeks past glory
Once nicknamed the 'Cure Corridor' because of the vast number of pharmaceutical manufacturers in New Jersey, the state has since lost its lead in the space to places like Boston and California. While 14 of the top 20 largest pharma companies still have locations in the area, places like Boston have built entire ecosystems around biotech and pharma clusters.
But the Garden State's industry organization, BIONJ, and the New Jersey Economic Development Authority are trying to help resuscitate the industry.
New Jersey launched a free portal at the convention giving users access to research from several universities, including Rutgers, New Jersey Institute of Technology and Princeton University. The data based will include over 3,500 faculty profiles from five public and private universities, abstracts of more than 180,000 published works, and over 23,000 media citations.
"This database will bring national and global attention to businesses seeking collaboration with our renowned research institutions. This is a wonderful and practical tool that will best leverage our incredible assets in the State of New Jersey to create fruitful partnerships between business and academia, increase federal funding opportunities and bring the best and the brightest students from around the world to our institutions," said Michele Siekerka, president and CEO of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association.
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