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Wistar Represents Innovation and Research Excellence at the Region’s First Economic Health Care Conference
Ben Leach

With its university research centers, top-ranked hospital systems and critical mass of biotechnology companies, Greater Philadelphia has the potential to be the Silicon Valley of modern health care. But what will it take to get there, as health care and life sciences hubs like the San Francisco Bay Area and Boston continue to grow?

To discuss where Philadelphia stands and what comes next, prominent leaders from the region’s top health care enterprises gathered at the first economic health care conference sponsored by the Philadelphia Business Journal (PBJ) on Oct. 20.

Wistar President and CEO Dario C. Altieri, M.D., joined speakers from The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Independence Blue Cross, Spark Therapeutics, Thomas Jefferson University & Jefferson Health, and the University of Pennsylvania at “Philadelphia: America’s Great Hub of Health Care Innovation.” Held at the Philadelphia Convention Center, the event featured several panel discussions about topics ranging from gene therapy and the region’s status as an incubator for health care startups, to the changing world of patient care and what the hospital of the future may look like.

To summarize the conference, PBJ healthcare/biotech/pharmaceuticals reporter John George featured 12 of his favorite speaker quotes in an online slideshow. Among them was a comment from Dr. Altieri, who, in advocating for more collaborations among researchers from different institutions to advance science, said: “None of us is smart enough to do everything alone.”

Dr. Altieri also stressed that while there is tremendous momentum in biotech in the Philadelphia region, research discoveries don’t happen overnight. Further, federal funding for biomedical research is absolutely vital for this economic engine, he said.   

Following the conference was the presentation of the PBJ’s annual Health Care Innovator Awards and first-ever Doctors of Distinction Awards. In the category of Medical Research Excellence, an award went to Luis Montaner, D.V.M., D.Phil., director of the HIV-1 Immunopathogenesis Laboratory at Wistar, and principal investigator of the BEAT-HIV Delaney Collaboratory. When asked by the PBJ what he thinks is the most important health care innovation of the past 25 years and why – a question posed to all honorees – Dr. Montaner focused on his research area of HIV/AIDS and specifically spoke about antiretroviral therapy (ART). He cited its success by reversing death by AIDS, preserving patients’ quality of life, and creating an opportunity to halt the global AIDS pandemic.

“Data indicates that ART has allowed for 21.7 million years of additional lifespan in South Africa alone since 2004, and this number is projected to reach as high as 28 million years of life by 2030. Globally, the number of lives saved and extended by ART is much larger,” said Dr. Montaner. “ART is also our strongest public health measure absent a future vaccine to avert new HIV infections, as reflected by lack of transmission and prevention from infection if used as prophylaxis. ART is the reason we are currently able to investigate a cure for HIV – all cure strategies being developed and tested depend on a recovery of immune function following ART-mediated suppression.”