By Dean J. Paranicas

New Jersey has long been a national and global leader in the advancement of human health. With the most scientists and engineers per square mile in the U.S. and one of the greatest concentrations of life sciences companies on the planet, our home state has richly earned its reputation as the “Medicine Chest of the World.”

As the world focuses on the breathtaking progress of our research-based biopharmaceutical and medical technology companies to combat COVID-19 – the vaccines, diagnostic tests, repurposed medicines and medical devices that are now treating COVID patients – New Jersey’s life sciences continue to pursue their mission of researching and discovering new treatments and cures to improve patients’ lives.

While these initiatives are very risky with a high failure rate, and can take a decade or more and billions of dollars to know whether they will succeed, recent accomplishments and ongoing efforts demonstrate we are on the cusp of greater achievements than were imaginable even a few short years ago.

The last decade has seen extraordinary advances in medicine that have delivered new treatments and cures for some of the world’s most dreaded diseases. For example:

  • For the first time in human history, we have cured hepatitis C – the days of liver transplants and life-long treatments can be behind us.
  • We now have a vaccine that prevents cervical cancer, something unheard of only a few short years ago.
  • HIV/AIDS has become a chronic, manageable condition instead of the death sentence it once was.
  • Just last year, the first-ever Ebola vaccine was approved.

New Jersey’s biopharmaceutical and medical technology companies are continuing their thrusts against Alzheimer’s and diabetes; toward developing a vaccine against HIV/AIDS; producing first-ever treatments for a plethora of rare diseases such as Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma; addressing antimicrobial resistance or “super bugs” and making major advances against various life-threatening cancers.

At the epicenter of these remarkable advances is New Jersey’s biopharmaceutical and medical technology sector and our state’s robust innovation ecosystem – world-class research universities, a highly trained and skilled organized labor community, a highly educated workforce, and a growing body of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) students – which allows our industry to continue driving not only our state’s economy, but also the future treatments and cures that will save and improve lives.

COVID-19 has reminded us of many important life lessons and it has reaffirmed how critical it is to ensure American’s role as the world leader in medical innovation – at the heart of which is New Jersey’s life sciences sector.

As the next administration and the new Congress seek to strengthen the nation’s ability to fight current disease states and future pandemics, we must strive to ensure that patients can access the life-saving medicines, devices and technologies our companies work so hard to discover, while preserving the innovation environment that promises that next generation of medical breakthroughs.

This will require that all stakeholders collaborate to resolve extraordinarily complex — and often divisive — issues through a deliberative, creative and balanced approach that recognizes achieving both these goals is essential if we are to create a better future for patients, who are the ultimate beneficiaries of our efforts.

Dean J. Paranicas is president and chief executive officer of the HealthCare Institute of New Jersey.

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