3 min read August 2022 — In an interview with Invest:, Jean-Pierre Issa, MD, president and CEO of Coriell Institute for Medical Research, talked about accomplishments in recent months and how the organization is focused on building New Jersey’s reputation when it comes to medical research. Issa shared what partnerships Coriell Institute has in place to accomplish this goal and keep the state competitive with neighboring states. He also discussed efforts that have been made to diversify research and the participants involved.
What have been some recent highlights for Coriell Institute?
We have been around for 70 years and were founded by Dr. Coriell, who had an interest in infectious diseases. Over the years we have done medical research on viruses and vaccines. We have also been expanding our research portfolio with research on cancer, genetics, epigenetics of the aging of diseases, and personalized medicine and therapeutics which has led to the startup Coriell Life Sciences, located across the river in Philadelphia. We are doing very well at the moment and were fortunate to not only make it through the pandemic but position ourselves for future growth. We are excited to be mostly unscathed, experiencing little to no interruptions thanks to working remotely and the safety measures we have taken. Over the past year we have been awarded a number of new grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), including a new R01 grant to study stem cells and a large grant including multiple organizations, of which we are the homebase, of $12 million to study cancer and cancer epigenetics.
How would you describe the science community in South Jersey?
There are significant challenges that need to be overcome. Over the past few years, the Eds and Meds corridor in the Camden area has grown substantially. Many new additions have livened the place, making it a vibrant and growing environment for medical care and education, but New Jersey continues to fall behind when it comes to research even though it is a leader when it comes to pharmaceuticals. That is a challenge a group of people, including myself, are looking to overcome as it is a great opportunity for growth within the state.
How symbiotic is the relationship between the science communities of South Jersey and Philadelphia?
Because the community in South Jersey is still quite small, the relationship is really more an opportunity to grow and recruit from the city across the river. Philadelphia is an important resource for collaboration and intellectual capital, but we do not have much of an impact on the Philadelphia community. We need to further develop in order to complement and even compete with Philadelphia but we are likely many years away from that.
What are some of the key partnerships and what goals do you share?
As a research institute, it is incumbent upon us to grow and focus on that research mission. One of my goals has been to grow this in conjunction with the other institutions, and we have had conversations with our partners to find out how to do that. I believe we have a shared vision now to grow our research footprint through infrastructure and with human capital. We are supported by the state as they also understand the opportunities that will be available from our mission, and I suspect there will be interesting growth and announcements over the next few years.
In what ways is Coriell Institute pursuing diversity in science?
That is a goal of all the institutions here in South Jersey. One of the projects we are currently working on with the MD Anderson Cancer Center is to develop a cancer-specific biobank focused on samples from patients within Camden, NJ, which of course has a very large minority representation. This provides an important resource for research. Another area of focus is expanding access to and greater minority representation within clinical trials. One way we are doing this is through the area of precision medicine, which includes collecting samples, providing genetic testing and reporting to patients. We have been leading the way so far, proving that it isn’t difficult to recruit a larger fraction of minority patients into clinical trials, and we hope to continue contributing to the solution.
What are you doing to combat the trend of general rejection of vaccines nationwide?
It takes research and education to overcome that skepticism. We reached a COVID vaccination rate of 97% among our employees. While we have had a few people for a variety of reasons not be vaccinated, a majority of people who were unsure at first were convinced by members of our team and scientists. Making education separate from politics allows us to overcome some of those politically driven decisions to not be vaccinated.
Is there any legislation you are currently following?
I have been pleased by the current presidential plan to increase funding for research through the NIH. This bipartisan plan to increase funding for the NIH is important for us, and we believe it will make the nation healthier. At the local level, we are interested in the support from legislators and the governor’s office for research institutions and universities. Comparatively, the amount of money coming from the state is far behind that of our neighbors and is crucial for increasing the competitiveness of the state and receiving federal funding from NIH and similar funders.
What is your vision of the next two to three years?
It will be a future of growth focused on medical research, given we are able to acquire and enlarge the necessary infrastructure. We would like to recruit more investigators into the area who would be competitive for funds from the NIH. We are looking for more partnerships and are looking forward to announcing them as they become public.
For more information, visit: opens in a new windowhttps://www.coriell.org/