Science needs to be flexible and responsive to a new world of health issues – and nowhere was that need shown in starker relief than with the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic.
And perhaps nowhere else adapted as quickly as the Hackensack Meridian Center for Discovery and Innovation (CDI), which developed tests and therapies in conjunction with the state’s largest health network at a time of critical need.
The CDI and a guest panel of renowned scientists from across the globe talked about the COVID-19 response – and future directions – in a CDI webinar called “Implementing Science in Real Time: A New Paradigm for Advancing Research in America, Lessons from a Pandemic.”
Introductory remarks were made by Robert C. Garrett, FACHE, the chief executive officer of Hackensack Meridian Health. The event was hosted by Sol Barer, Ph.D., the chairman of Teva Pharmaceuticals and founder of Celgene, who is also the chairman of the CDI’s Board of Directors. The event was moderated by Rick Bright, Ph.D., currently the senior vice president of Pandemic Prevention and Response for The Rockefeller Foundation, who was previously director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) during the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The conference highlighted the CDI’s unique translational model, showcasing the importance of academic science in creating medical solutions and its approach to breaking down historic silos that separate the academic, clinical, commercial (pharmaceutical, diagnostic and biotech), and public health sectors to translate biomedical research in real time, and ensure that it is more highly responsive to public health threats and challenges. The panel participants represented thought leaders in each of these sectors.
The centerpiece of the virtual event was a presentation by David Perlin, Ph.D., the chief scientific officer and senior vice president of the CDI, in which he talked about CDI’s impactful response to COVID-19 for the State of NJ, and how the CDI model could, and should, be leveraged into a wider response, with the right assistance from stakeholders in government and industry.
The CDI showed that scientific know-how made a huge difference in “real time” in responding to the pandemic, said Dr. Perlin. The viral, high-throughput assay in the first wave of the pandemic allowed Hackensack Meridian Health to test quicker and limit the spread of the virus – thereby saving lives. The molecular diagnostics which allowed clinicians to identify the “superdonors” – the survivors of COVID-19 who produced high levels of neutralizing antibodies against the virus – allowed the effective use of high-titer convalescent plasma – a treatment available before proven antivirals or vaccines were available, in the second wave of the pandemic. The surveillance provided by CDI expertise in tracking the viral variants of concern of SARS-CoV-2 continues to serve the health network and state authorities to state ahead of the pandemic’s twists and turns.
“The time has come for us to re-shape the way America creates disease solutions, as the current siloed model is inefficient and serves the country inadequately,” said Dr. Perlin. “We have to bring solutions to the market faster, more effectively.
“Fundamentally, our goal as a research institute (CDI) is to transform the landscape of science to impact patients in real-time,” he added. “Clinical need drives our science.”
A distinguished panel of experts fielded questions from the audience after Perlin’s presentation. Participants included: Gilla Kaplan, Ph.D., a board member, Avalo Therapeutics, and former director of Global Health, Tuberculosis, for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Jeremy M. Levin, D.Phil. – chairman and CEO, Ovid Therapeutics; Jonathan D. Rockoff, J.D. – Health Business Editor, Wall Street Journal; Angus G. Dalgleish, FRCP, FRCPath, FMedSc, the Foundation Professor of Oncology at St. George’s University of London and principal of the Institute for Cancer Vaccines and Immunotherapy; and the Hon. Andrew Zwicker – NJ Assemblyman, who is chair of the NJ Assembly Science, Innovation and Technology Committee.