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Meeting of the minds: Garrett, Pecora participate in Regenerative Medicine conference at the Vatican. Yes, the Vatican

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Dr. Andrew Pecora, chief innovation officer, left, and Robert C. Garrett, co-CEO, Hackensack Meridan Health.
Dr. Andrew Pecora, chief innovation officer, left, and Robert C. Garrett, co-CEO, Hackensack Meridan Health. - ()

They don't brag about it, so not many people know.

Dr. Andrew Pecora, chief innovations officer at Hackensack Meridian Health, and Hackensack Meridian Health co-CEO Robert C. Garrett were invited to a special four-day event at The Vatican earlier this year.

The Regenerative Medicine international conference focuses on scientific advancements “with a particular focus on adult stem cell therapies and the interconnection between research, faith, ethics and culture.”

Pecora and Garrett were invited because of COTA, a company Pecora runs through Hackensack that has created a data-driven, cloud-based tool to help improve cancer treatment outcomes.

Pecora said the magnitude of the moment was not lost on them.

“Putting the actual religion aside, who better to convene world leaders than a group whose core mission is to improve the lives of people around the world,” he said. “Especially people who are impoverished and need help.

“It’s a world stage of historic significance. You are not there to compete.”

And if you thought the Catholic Church has a blanket opposition to all stem cell research, you would be wrong. The church actually supports ethically responsible stem cell research, according to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and a number of other Catholic organizations’ websites.

Garrett said the Vatican has opposed embryonic stem cell research, but non-embryonic stem cell transplants harvested from adults to other adults or children is approved.

Garrett said there were two clear messages from the event.

“The message we heard loud and clear was there should be collaboration between science and all organized religions — not just Catholicism,” he said. “The other message the pope had is this type of therapy and research should not be just for well-to-do people, but also available to the poor throughout the planet as well. If I had to boil it down, that was the dual message.”

“We couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity to share on a global level how our informatics will enable value-based medicine, expanding the reach of health care services to more people around the world.”
Dr. Andrew Pecora, CIO, Hackensack Meridian Health

Pecora, who attended the two previous Vatican health and science events in 2011 and 2013, spoke on a panel that focused on health care inequality and ways to increase both access and affordability of care by reducing waste.

Pecora has been recognized for his work with using technology to categorize patient factors, diseases and therapies to measure outcomes and identify a number of variables to help better collect data on treatments.

“By utilizing our team’s deep oncologic expertise to develop national, evidence-based benchmarks of patient outcomes and costs, we’re equipping providers, payers and pharma with the objective data needed to reduce wasteful spending and provide the best possible outcome for every cancer patient, every time,” he said in a statement prior to the event.

“We couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity to share on a global level how our informatics will enable value-based medicine, expanding the reach of health care services to more people around the world.”

His team also presented on how “blood biopsies will change utilization of precision medicine, how the combination of precision medicine and analytics can change reimbursement for health care, and how a partnership between providers, big data and payers will reshape the way health care is delivered globally,” according to the statement.

Garrett and Pecora said the conference proved to be a great networking event for top business and science leaders around the world, and included a visit from Vice President Joe Biden because of the Cancer Moonshot program.

“(It was a) diverse group of people that are highly influential,” Pecora said. “You have people from the media, from great wealth, of great power — like Biden — ambassadors, cardinals, people of faith, some of the world’s best and brightest scientists and minds.”

Garrett pointed to some of the issues brought up by national leaders at the event.

“Other countries have been able to figure out the approval process (of cell therapy) in a more expeditious way than the U.S. has,” he said.

Both Garrett and Pecora said they came back inspired and energized, and Pecora added it was fruitful for creating new relationships.

Pecora’s team presented on immunotherapy and its effectiveness to treat Type 1 diabetes.

A Japanese group was interested in some of the work, and another company tapped another medical investigator on Pecora’s team to work on advancing into clinical trials.

“We came back inspired and established incredible relationships,” Pecora said.

E-mail to: anjaleek@njbiz.com
On Twitter: @anjkhem

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