Sen. Robert Menendez visits Hackensack Meridian Health’s Center for Discovery and Innovation to Discuss Coronavirus Preparedness

February 28, 2020

The Center for Discovery and Innovation is developing a rapid-test response for the virus that is sweeping the globe

Hackensack Meridian Health, New Jersey’s largest and most comprehensive health network, hosted U.S. Senator Robert Menendez at the network’s Center for Discovery and Innovation (CDI), where leading researchers are developing a rapid response test to diagnose the coronavirus known as COVID-19 , which is sweeping the globe and has reached California.

Sen. Menendez (D-NJ) toured the CDI with Hackensack Meridian Health experts who are also preparing for potential cases in New Jersey. The virus has spread to 48 countries and federal health authorities have warned Americans to prepare for major disruptions in the U.S. while President Trump this week appointed Vice President Mike Pence to oversee the nation’s response to a potential outbreak.

“Coronavirus is already in the US and we are preparing for cases in New Jersey,” said Robert C. Garrett, FACHE, the chief executive officer of Hackensack Meridian Health. “As the state’s largest comprehensive health network, we are positioning ourselves as the leader to mitigate its effects, and also develop innovations which will help in the days and weeks to come.”

“Timely diagnostics are critical and we are veterans in this kind of event,” said David S. Perlin, Ph.D., the chief scientific officer and senior vice president of the CDI. “Our rapid diagnostic lab has previously been part of the 2003 SARS response, and the 2009 H1N1 response – and most recently the Candida auris outbreak. We’re doing our part to get Hackensack Meridian Health, and the state of New Jersey, ready for any viral spread.”

“I applaud the great and innovative minds of everyone at Hackensack Meridian’s Center for Discovery and Innovation. The work that’s done here is vital to our state and nation’s health care,” said U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, a senior member of the Senate Finance Committee that sets national health policy. “The United States is capable of answering any challenge – so long as we have the necessary resources and strategy to succeed. I will continue to use every tool at my disposal to protect the public health of New Jersey families and all Americans. Together we can prevent COVID-19 from turning into a full-blown public health crisis.”

The visit started with a tour of the CDI’s Institute for Cancer and Infectious Diseases, which is where the work on the new diagnostic will be completed.

Afterward, the senator and Perlin were joined by Daniel Varga, M.D., chief physician executive at Hackensack Meridian Health, to give an update on the health network’s preparation.

“We can all do our part to prepare for the coming of the virus,” said Varga. “There will be tests of providing access, and delivering care in response to any outbreaks. But with innovative approaches like telemedicine and other strategic uses of our resources, we will keep spread minimal, and treat the ill to the best of our ability.”

The CDI built COVID-19 diagnostic assays several weeks ago but is still awaiting validating samples. Perlin and his team established two tests: one recommended by the CDC, and another one by a prominent group in Germany that is being adopted in Europe.