Hackensack Meridian Health’s Center for Discovery and Innovation Launches Rapid Response Coronavirus Test

March 12, 2020

New test reduces wait time for a diagnosis from days to just hours as the number of COVID-19 cases grow

Hackensack Meridian Health, New Jersey’s largest and most comprehensive health network, is pleased to announce that the Center for Discovery and Innovation (CDI) has created a test to dramatically reduce the time it takes for diagnosing COVID-19.  This is a major advance that will benefit patients, create a more effective triage system in our hospitals and potentially better control the spread of disease.

“Our mission at Hackensack Meridian Health is to transform health care and this new rapid test does precisely that,” said Robert C. Garrett, FACHE, chief executive officer of Hackensack Meridian Health. “We are all proud to provide this game-changing diagnostic tool which will ultimately benefit communities far beyond New Jersey.  I applaud the efforts of the CDI in achieving this breakthrough.’’

The new diagnostic tool will reduce the current process of testing for COVID-19 from days to hours. The test permits the network to quarantine and treat patients suspected of having COVID-19 more rapidly or in the case of a negative result, spare the patient unnecessary time in the hospital. The Center for Discovery and Innovation received preliminary Emergency Use Authorization from the Food and Drug Administration to start using the test today. Additionally, the state Department of Health has also approved the test.

“The Department of Health commends Hackensack Meridian Health’s effort in bringing online their laboratory to test for SARS-COV-2 and adding more testing capacity in New Jersey,’’ said Chris Neuwirth, assistant commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Health.

“As more hospital and commercial laboratories begin testing, New Jersey residents will have greater access to SARS-COV-2 diagnostic testing and public health officials will have a greater ability to monitor, track, and respond to new cases.”

“We believe our test could make the difference in stemming outbreaks,” said David S. Perlin, Ph.D., the chief scientific officer and senior vice president of the CDI. “It’s fast and it’s accurate, and crucial hours could mean the difference in stopping the spread of this virus.”

The CDI test combines elements of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) diagnostic, and a test developed in Germany and adopted by the World Health Organization (WHO). CDI experts began work on the test in mid-January, following the outbreak of the virus first identified in China in December 2019

Last week, the center received live virus and viral RNA, a crucial step toward bringing the test to use in clinical settings, said Dr. Perlin, a global infectious diseases expert who helped develop diagnostics for SARS and other infectious diseases. The CDI validated the results and completed FDA requirements to administer the test. Initially, the network will be able to test 24 patients every eight hours. Our goal is to capitalize on the technology and find ways to expand its use in the region.

The need for testing continues to grow: more than 127,000 cases are confirmed globally; New Jersey is reporting 23 presumptive positives, according to health officials.

Officials stress that the network will continue to follow strict protocols on which patients will be tested. Patients cannot simply request the test if they believe they have been exposed to the virus or are experiencing respiratory symptoms. Patients should first consult with their primary care physician to determine if they are a candidate for testing.

“Having our own test, which allows us to respond in real-time, is the crucial tool we need at the point of care when we need it most,” said Dr. Daniel Varga, chief physician executive for Hackensack Meridian Health. Dr. Varga was the chief clinical officer for Texas Health Resources oversaw a massive response in and around Dallas to the Ebola virus outbreak in 2014.

A key scientist analyzing and developing the diagnostic is Yanan Zhao, M.D., Ph.D., who is an assistant member of the CDI and leads research at the Perlin laboratory.  She is expert in rapid molecular diagnostics for pathogens.

Dr. Perlin said the quicker CDI test will allow Hackensack Meridian Health to be a leader of progressive change in preparation for any cluster of cases.

“Speed, with accuracy, is the way we can keep the number of cases down,” said Perlin.

About the Center for Discovery and Innovation

The Center for Discovery and Innovation, a newly established member of Hackensack Meridian Health, seeks to translate current innovations in science to improve clinical outcomes for patients with cancer, infectious diseases and other life-threatening and disabling conditions. The CDI, housed in a fully renovated state-of-the-art facility, offers world-class researchers a support infrastructure and culture of discovery that promotes science innovation and rapid translation to the clinic.

About John Theurer Cancer Center at Hackensack University Medical Center

John Theurer Cancer Center at Hackensack University Medical Center is New Jersey’s largest and most comprehensive center dedicated to the diagnosis, treatment, management, research, screenings, and preventive care as well as survivorship of patients with all types of cancers. The 14 specialized divisions covering the complete spectrum of cancer care have developed a close-knit team of medical, research, nursing, and support staff with specialized expertise that translates into more advanced, focused care for all patients. Each year, more people in the New Jersey/New York metropolitan area turn to John Theurer Cancer Center for cancer care than to any other facility in New Jersey. John Theurer Cancer Center is a member of the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center Consortium, one of just 16 NCI-approved cancer research consortia based at the nation’s most prestigious institutions. Housed within a 775-bed not-for-profit teaching, tertiary care, and research hospital, John Theurer Cancer Center provides state-of-the-art technological advances, compassionate care, research innovations, medical expertise, and a full range of aftercare services that distinguish John Theurer Cancer Center from other facilities. For additional information, please visit www.jtcancercenter.org.