Stem cell initiative will help NJ economy, public health

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:58

    TRENTON — A Rutgers University study estimates the governor’s $380 million stem cell research initiative would give a major boost to the state’s economy in the next two decades and, assuming treatments result, would help many ill residents and reduce health care costs. The report, prepared for acting Governor Richard J. Codey, estimates such a state investment in stem cell research would generate about $1.4 billion in new economic activity in New Jersey from 2006 through 2025. In addition, the initiative would generate nearly 20,000 new jobs and about $72 million in additional taxes and royalties for the state over that period. ``As a government, as a society, we have a moral obligation to pursue these opportunities’’ to save lives, Codey said Thursday afternoon at the Kessler Rehabilitation Institute in Saddle Brook after releasing the report. ``Our life-sciences and technology-based industries are the life blood of our economy and the hope for continued economic growth in years to come,’’ he added. Codey has proposed spending $150 million to build a research center at Rutgers’ New Brunswick campus, to be jointly operated by Rutgers and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, and to outfit labs there with state-of-the-art equipment. Another $230 million would be distributed in grants to researchers over a seven-year period. Codey’s plan has run into some roadblocks, however. The state Assembly failed to pass the $150 million appropriation before recessing for the summer, and lawmakers delayed a bond issue for the $230 million for at least a year by failing to vote to put it on the ballot in November. The current state budget, though, includes $10.5 million for recruiting scientists to the future center and setting up clinical trials, and Codey said he believes he has the legislative support to get a bond referendum on the ballot next year. The report was prepared by Professor Joseph J. Seneca of the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers. It estimates that from 2006 through 2025, the $380 million investment would generate $336 million in direct economic activity, create more than 4,000 jobs and increase state and local tax revenues by almost $22 million. Seneca, who said his estimates are conservative, said the state investment is needed to keep the pharmaceutical and biotech industries thriving and expanding in New Jersey, given intense global competition. That expansion should generate new economic activity in the $1 billion range, according to Seneca. The state should get a 1 percent royalty on any medical treatments produced by researchers receiving state grants, generating an estimated $21 million, but the benefits to people are more important, Seneca said. ``The opportunity to reduce (patients’) suffering and improve the quality and length of life is a compelling reason to take that risk and invest’’ in stem cell research, Seneca told The Associated Press in an interview. Assuming breakthrough therapies start coming in about a decade _ in New Jersey or elsewhere _ Seneca said the state, insurers and individuals would save a combined $11.3 billion in health care costs from 2016 through 2025 for six key health problems alone. Those are diabetes, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, stroke, heart attack and spinal cord injury. Therapies for those conditions also would save the New Jersey economy $813 million in lost wages and $60.7 million for the value of preventing premature deaths over those 10 years.