Even before the COVID-19 pandemic reached the state, Dr. David Perlin and his team at the Center for Discovery and Innovation were in the lab, trying to find ways to help in the fight.
Soon after, they had done just that, developing a diagnostic test for COVID-19, which served to provide testing at a critical time when New Jersey hospitals were waiting up to 10 days for a diagnostic result.
It was the first of many discoveries that CDI, the research arm of Hackensack Meridian Health, has made along the way. And just one of the reasons that Perlin has been recognized by Modern Healthcare as one of this year’s Top 25 Innovators.
“This award is a great honor,” Perlin said. “The CDI aims to improve lives through real-time application of science, and I believe this distinction shows that our whole team here is making that difference, by responding to unmet needs.”
The nomination of Perlin focused on the CDI’s achievements during the COVID-19 era, which included testing, tracking and therapeutic breakthroughs to benefit patients across the Hackensack Meridian Health network and across the state, including:
- A high-throughput test: It can detect multiple variants of the virus in two-and-a-half hours, a major advance in tracking the virus and in treating patients. The test can detect the known variants — most recently, the prevalent Delta variant, as well as the other known mutations, including the U.K., Brazil and South Africa variants.
- New drug candidates: Pharmaceutical, biotech companies and academic discovery groups have partnered with CDI to develop new drug candidates against COVID-19, and other coronaviruses. Utilizing a SARS-CoV-2 viral pathogenic screening assay that mimics viral infection of host cells in the Biosafety Level 3 lab suite, a team has evaluated hundreds of compounds representing approved drugs, drug candidates in late-stage clinical development as antivirals, as well as new chemical classes.
- The convalescent plasma program: Housed at Hackensack University Medical Center and focused on high titers (levels) of antibodies, coupled with early intervention, to mitigate the disease. The published results of the early intervention led to an outpatient program at Hackensack University Medical Center, supported by a Department of Defense grant. The $5.5 million funding allows the researchers at John Theurer Cancer Center at Hackensack University Medical Center and the CDI to continue clinical testing for patients within the first 96 hours of symptoms, with the aim to prevent hospitalization.
CDI scientists are also studying the biology of the virus, host factors that impact disease progression, and discovery and development of novel drug candidates.
HMH CEO Bob Garrett said the efforts of Perlin and his team at CDI have been invaluable.
“Dr. David Perlin and the CDI have been a crucial resource for our health network during the pandemic,” Garrett said. “Dr. Perlin’s clear-eyed vision, and his experience with previous infectious disease outbreaks, has saved lives. This latest award is just further validation of his leadership.”
Dr. Ihor Sawczuk, the chief research officer and president of the Northern Region of HMH, agreed.
“Dr. Perlin and his colleagues at the CDI have brought a new dimension of science to our research programs at Hackensack Meridian Health,” he said. “The future for our patients is bright.”
Perlin joined CDI in January 2019. In May 2020, he received a $33.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop new antibiotics to overcome deadly bacteria in hospitals that have become resistant to current treatments.
Perlin has been at the forefront of scientific research into combating high-threat bacterial, viral and fungal pathogens for nearly three decades. He helped develop a number of novel therapeutics and diagnostics, some of which are now commercial products. He also developed a wide range of domestic and global programs addressing both hospital- and community-associated drug resistance.
His team of researchers has developed molecular diagnostic products for the CDC and local hospitals for multidrug resistant outbreak pathogens, including drug-resistance determinants. He has worked with numerous device manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies, as well as with the FDA and EMA. He also serves as an advisory board member to numerous pharmaceutical, biotech and diagnostic companies for development of novel therapeutics and diagnostics targeting drug-resistant pathogens.