AT ITS CAMPUS IN NUTLEY, THE CENTER FOR DISCOVERY AND INNOVATION IS HARNESSING CUTTING EDGE BIOMEDICAL RESEARCH TO TACKLE CHALLENGING AND DEBILITATING DISEASES

BY JESSICA JONES GORMAN • PHOTOS © AMESSÉ PHOTOGRAPHY

Hackensack Meridian Health’s Center for Discovery and Innovation (CDI) is committed to a mission of developing and translating biomedical innovations into treatments that improve the lives of cancer patients and others with life threatening, disabling, or chronic diseases. It is at the forefront of a reawakening in science that is having a significant impact on therapies and diagnostics worldwide by effectively manipulating the human immune system to cure diseases that were once untreatable. Experts at the institution, who are focused on creating a culture of scientific innovation, are actively discovering methods to detect disease in patients before it happens.

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“We have entered into this remarkable period in which we have tremendous genetic tools and great insight into the way the immune system works,” noted David Perlin, Ph.D., chief science officer and senior vice president of the CDI. “Our goal is to harness that insight and use it to rapidly benefit patients. What we are trying to do with the CDI which is a bit different than other academic groups or related programs is to create a translational science ecosystem that integrates academic scientists with clinicians and small and large companies, with an objective to better treat and manage patients with disease.”

An important goal of the CDI is to maximize therapies for cancer and infectious diseases, and to better understand why some patients fail treatment. “We recognize there will always be a number who respond well to therapy, but there is also a subset who respond poorly,” Perlin said. “Instead of simply giving in to these ‘refractory’ diseases, saying there’s not much that we can do, the CDI is rethinking options. We believe there has to be a way to treat all patients. And one of the key objectives here is to take on those who are failing current therapies and create alternative approaches to overcome their diseases.”

By recruiting a team of world class researchers who are among the best in their field, the CDI is concentrating not only on conducting innovative research but on providing treatments now. “We don’t want ivory tower research,” Perlin said. “We want research that is translational and beneficial to patients, research that will allow treatment to happen as quickly as possible.”
One important part of the CDI’s work is drug penetration.

“What happens when there is a poor therapeutic response? Perlin asked. “Sometimes the drugs just don’t get to the site of disease at a desired therapeutic level. An important part of what we’re trying to do is reevaluate the way we dose and find better treatments that maximize drug exposure. At the CDI, academics, clinicians, and companies are all working together collaboratively to produce an accelerated solution, and innovation that can rapidly be brought to market.”

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The CDI occupies 110,000 square feet of space on the former Hoffmann LaRoche campus in Nutley, the one time home of the Roche Institute of Molecular Biology.

“This site was the birthplace of scientific breakthroughs with interferons in the 1970s, so there’s an important legacy here for us,” said Perlin. “The Roche Institute was really the model for bringing together academic and company sponsored scientists to develop products to help battle disease. We’re following in that great tradition.”

There are currently 13 labs and approximately 85 scientists and support personnel on site. By year’s end, Perlin noted, those numbers should increase to 15 labs and 100 team members. “We are currently in the first phase of development,” he said. “We’ve obtained substantial funding from the National Institutes of Health, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the pharma and biotech sectors, and private donors. We’ve received a tremendous response to what we’re trying to accomplish here. We have recruited very talented researchers to the program and will continue to grow our staff in the coming months.”

At the CDI, a highly integrated network is being established. It includes a strong partnership of researchers, physicians, the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine at Seton Hall University, and Hackensack Meridian Health’s 17 network hospitals. The CDI is separated into three distinct institutes: one for cancer and infectious diseases, the second for multiple myeloma, and the last for regenerative medicine.

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“The Institute for Cancer and Infectious Diseases is dedicated to understanding the landscape and biology of cancer cells and opportunistic pathogens [bacterial, viral, and fungal], which cause infection in immuno compromised patients,” Perlin said. “We then apply this knowledge to overcome these diseases through innovative strategies for detection, prevention, and treatment.”
The Institute for Multiple Myeloma is dedicated to expediting the development of breakthrough ideas relating to the treatment of multiple myeloma (cancer of the bone marrow). With a focus on pre clinical studies, clinical trials, and approved interventions, the goal is to offer lifesaving care for patients.

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The Institute for Regenerative Medicine offers novel solutions to heal damaged tissues and organs, and aims to restore health to patients with conditions that currently cannot be treated.
“Regenerative medicine is the Holy Grail for medical research and science,” explained Perlin. “Being able to restore and repair tissues and organs using the body’s own cells this is the future of medicine, and it’s not as far off as you think. It’s mind boggling how rapidly developments are progressing.”

The ultimate goal of the Center for Discovery and Innovation, he added, is to use all of this groundbreaking science to provide a form of personalized medicine that will result in better therapies and improved quality of life and life expectancy for patients.

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“This research will lead to better and more consistent outcomes for patients in New Jersey and beyond. With the help of numerous partners and our board of directors, led by Dr. Sol Barer, we are poised to realize this goal,” Perlin concluded.

Hackensack Meridian Health Center
for Discovery and Innovation
340 Kingsland Street, Nutley / 201.880.3100 /
hmh-cdi.org