As CDI approaches 2nd anniversary, Garrett sees plenty of reasons to celebrate

Hackensack Meridian Health's Bob Garrett speaks at the ceremony.

Bob Garrett can rattle off all of the areas in which the scientists at the Center for Discovery and Innovation are doing research — in addition to their efforts involving COVID-19.

There are other infectious diseases, cancer, cardiac care, diabetes and others.

“In terms of its presence, its focus, CDI is really advancing science in a lot of different clinical areas,” Garrett said.

But when Garrett, the CEO of Hackensack Meridian Health, talks about the depth of research going on at the facility in Nutley that will celebrate its second anniversary in May, he said it’s easier to measure the growth of the facility in another way.

“We’re out of room,” he said. “We just had a meeting with the master facility planning folks to develop additional space on the upper floors of the building. We need to expand our laboratories.

“There’s a big demand for the science that’s going on at the CDI.”

CDI, which opened in May 2019 to much fanfare, now has approximately 150 scientists working in 17 labs. And, while the facility does research in a variety of areas, COVID-19 certainly has taken precedence. By happenstance, the facilities director, Dr. David Perlin, is an expert in infectious disease. This has helped lead to a number of breakthroughs.

Early on, CDI developed one of the first COVID-19 tests, which allowed for an exponential increase in testing at a time when it was desperately needed. CDI also has been a leader in plasma therapy and — just last month — introduced a rapid test to identify variants.

“We created CDI for breakthroughs like these,” Garrett said.

The efforts are getting noticed, Garrett said. Recruitment of additional scientists has not been an issue.

“I think the scientific community is seeing what’s going on there and recognizing that they are a major force,” Garrett said. “We certainly get kudos from other health systems and from the Department of Health about the work that the CDI is doing.

“There is a sense of enthusiasm, a sense of real scientific breakthroughs happening at the CDI. I think they have made a profound difference in New Jersey and from a global perspective when you talk about the breakthroughs during this pandemic.”

Of course, Garrett is eager to talk about CDI’s other opportunities.

He thinks the potential for real advancement in cancer research is high. He is excited about doing more clinical trials for vaccines with major pharmaceutical companies — and eager to see the breakthrough that could result from the data collection on existing therapeutics.

And then, there’s this: The CDI holds great benefit for the next generation of doctors and researchers that are being trained at the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine, which is right next door — and graduating its first class this spring.

“There’s no question that the school and CDI are working closely together,” Garrett said. “For students to have that jewel physically connected to their building, to be able to go to those laboratories and speak to the scientists and researchers on a daily basis, is a huge advantage.”