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BioTech dinner offers 'hope' for spinal cord injury cure

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Once a fierce defender, Hall of Fame linebacker Nick Buoniconti tackled a topic tougher than football Thursday night, advocating for spinal cord injury cures before New Jersey's biotech community.

The issue is personal for Buoniconti, a former Miami Dolphins All-Pro and two-time Super Bowl champion. His son Marc has been paralyzed, losing movement in his arms and legs, since dislocating his neck while playing college football for The Citadel in 1985.

"I would give all those accolades away if I could just have my son one day put his arms around me and hug me and say, 'Dad, thank you. I love you,' " Buoniconti said to nearly 700 attendees of the state's life science sector, gathered at the Hilton East Brunswick.

Buoniconti was the keynote speaker at BioNJ's annual dinner, a get together of the state's top biotechnology trade group and company executives. His talk reflected the event's theme of patient advocacy.

Buoniconti is a founder and spokesman for the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, a research center that provides lab space for scientists and clinicians in hopes of discovering breakthroughs in treatment of paralysis. The project, of which Marc Buoniconti is president, has raised more than $150 million since its inception to support its programs.

"I am more hopeful now than ever that spinal cord injury will be cured," Nick Buoniconti said. "We need your help. We are not oblivious to what is going on in the biotech world."

Keeping with the theme of patient advocacy, BioNJ honored individuals fighting for cures of rare diseases:

Stuart Peltz, CEO of PTC Therapeutics Inc., was granted the 2014 Dr. Sol J. Barer Award for Vision, Innovation and Leadership.

Peltz left academia to lead PTC, a publicly traded company based in South Plainfield that develops small molecule treatments for rare disorders. PTC's lead product ataluren is in late-stage clinical trials to treat Duchenne muscular dystrophy and cystic fibrosis, plus the company has clinical programs in oncology and infectious diseases. The award is named after Barer, former CEO of Summit biotech Celgene Inc.

Also granted Patient Advocate awards:

  • Nick Buoniconti;
  • John Crowley, CEO of Amicus Therapeutics of Cranbury Township;
  • Peter Saltonstall, CEO of the National Organization for Rare Disorders;
  • Wise Young, founding director of the W. M. Keck Center for Collaborative Neuroscience at Rutgers University.

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