Roche’s recent announcement that it will be closing its venerable Nutlley, NJ R&D site is the latest in a string of mergers and reorganizations that have resulted in the loss of thousands of life-sciences jobs from New Jersey, and an exodus of both R&D and manufacturing from a state known as the home of big Pharma. The mergers of Wyeth with Pfizer and Schering Plough with Merck were among the highlights of a decade that has seen a dramatic contraction in the pharmaceutical industry as a whole. According to BioNJ, 17 of the top 20 pharma companies have a presence in New Jersey, and because the presence was so large to begin with, the effects of the contraction on the New Jersey economy have been acutely felt.
Ironically, New Jersey’s governor Chris Christie was awarded the 2012 Governor of the Year award by BIO, the biotech industry trade group, because of his biotech-friendly tax policies. While BIO, in their press release calls New Jersey a biotech cluster, the reality is that the 300 or so biotech companies in New Jersey are spread throughout the state (around 8000 square miles), without the dense concentration found in Boston (around 240 companies within 750 square miles, according to MassBio) or San Diego. And biotechs tend to be small, employing tens or hundreds of people, so cannot begin to replace the thousands of high-paying jobs that were lost from big Pharma. That the BIO Governor of the Year was awarded in a state where the joke is that the cashier at the grocery story might be a PhD chemist is bound to make a few people cringe.