Making discoveries … and companies: How CDI can give big boost to N.J. economy

All of the speakers at Tuesday’s ribbon-cutting for the Center for Discovery and Innovation talked about the facility’s ability to produce world-class breakthroughs in the fight against some of the world’s most difficult diseases, such as cancer, diabetes and antibiotic resistant infections.

In doing so, the facility — at the ON3 complex on the Nutley/Clifton border, where it joins the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine at Seton Hall University — could help some of the state’s economic ills, serving as one of the building blocks of the innovative economy Gov. Phil Murphy has been touting for the state.

Dr. Andrew Pecora, who is credited with conceiving the facility along with Hackensack Meridian Health CEO Bob Garrett, said medical breakthroughs are just one part of the potential success of CDI.

“We have the constructed the CDI to be a public-private partnership,” he said. “Our greatest hope is that our scientists will discover things that someday lead to Nobel Prizes and, at the same time, the creation of Fortune 100 companies that will stay in New Jersey to create and facilitate the innovative ecosystem.”

Dr. Sol Barer, the renowned former head of Celgene who serves as chair of the board of directors of CDI, agreed.

Tom Bergeron/ROI-NJ
Dr. Sol Barer speaks at the ribbon-cutting event.

Barer said having CDI connected to HMH leads to financial synergies.

“It leads to medicines, patents and also valuable jobs and economic benefits for our state,” he said. “It is a win-win strategy from every perspective.”

Barer noted the board is made up of not only leaders in science — including New Jersey pharmaceutical industry heavyweights Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Celgene — but experienced people in the integration of science into business and into medicines.

“(They have) specific areas of input for the creation and successful growth of science-based health care companies and entrepreneurs,” he said.

Garrett noted CDI already had received a $33 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop new antibiotics to treat drug resistant infections.

“That’s pretty special,” he said.

Murphy said that’s all part of his innovation economy plan.

“It is our administration’s intention to bring New Jersey to the forefront of the innovation economy, and there was no more meaningful way to innovate than through life-changing health care discovery,” he said.

Jose Lozano, the CEO of Choose New Jersey, said word of the CDI already is spreading. He’s hopeful it will lead to more companies coming to New Jersey to take part in the research — and said he is eager to start pitching it to more companies.

“Having the CDI, having the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine, having this campus and the ecosystem that is being built here is allowing New Jersey to recapture what we once had: a dominance in the life sciences.

“Bringing in a quality health care organization, the research and having companies that want to collaborate is something that will put New Jersey back on the map.

“And, with all the craziness that’s going on in Boston with the overpopulation there and the stuff that’s going on in California, I think being right next door, literally miles away from the biggest market in the world, is something folks have to take a look at.”

Debbie Hart, the CEO of BioNJ, is hopeful CDI can help grow the state’s place in the life sciences world, too.

“The Center for Discovery and Innovation is incredibly meaningful to the state of New Jersey, to innovation, to the industry and, most importantly, to patients,” she said. “It harkens back to the days of original research that has happened here over so many years.

“That legacy can continue with CDI.”

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