Hadassah has long taken the lead in advocating for women’s health concerns.
In 2016, the women’s Zionist organization founded the Coalition for Women’s Health Equity, bringing together a broad spectrum of women’s health and faith-based groups to advocate nationally for prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and care in regard to women’s health concerns.
By last spring, that coalition had doubled in size and, along with a bipartisan committee of legislators, convened the Women’s Health Empowerment Summit on May 17 in Washington.
In keeping with that focus, the individual honored at the Hadassah Southern New Jersey region’s annual Myrtle Wreath Awards luncheon this year is a “health-care champion” whose research and initiatives have profoundly affected the well-being of women and others worldwide.
Dr. Joanne Waldstreicher of Scotch Plains, chief medical officer at Johnson & Johnson — the medical devices and pharmaceutical company whose international headquarters is in New Brunswick — was recognized for her “commitment and pioneering efforts in ethics-based research and compassionate access to clinical trials.” Her achievements, said region president Michelle Krasner of Marlboro, “inspire young women and girls to enter the sciences and make a difference in the world.”
Waldstreicher is an ideal honoree for Hadassah, “which has a long history of advocating on issues important to all women and the American-Jewish community,” Krasner said at the luncheon, held Oct. 29 at the Forsgate Country Club in Monroe.
Waldstreicher told the 350 women in attendance, “Hadassah is in my blood.” A member of the Raritan Valley chapter in Highland Park, she is a life member whose family ties to the organization extend back three generations and to Israel, New York, and New Jersey.
Her mother, Audrey Waldstreicher, and mother-in-law, Margot Cohane — both longtime members of Hadassah — were also honored at the luncheon.
The values instilled in Waldstreicher by her parents, she said, propelled her to a career devoted to helping others.
As J&J’s chief medical officer, she has initiated programs enabling the health-care giant to share cutting-edge medical research with institutions and clinicians around the world and accelerating lifesaving medical advances; she also championed a program giving critically ill patients “compassionate access” to experimental drugs.
Her research has focused on women’s health issues that have not received significant attention, including polycystic ovary disease, hair loss, and obesity. At J&J, she is serving as a mentor to several women scientists and physicians. Waldstreicher has also pushed for the appropriate dosing and labeling of medicines for children.
Waldstreicher said her father instilled a strong work ethic and love of science in his children. A graduate of the American Institute of Baking — where he learned the science behind his vocation — he would experiment with baking formulas with his daughter at his side. He would tell her, “When work gets difficult and I feel I can’t go on, I step back, take off my apron, turn it around, put it back on, and get back to work.”
Waldstreicher told the gathering she has had to turn her own apron around many times, and she developed her own motto: “Stand up and stand out.”
Waldstreicher said she had to “stand up and stand out” when she convinced higher-ups to be transparent with coveted research. In the end, the Yale Open Data Access Project (YODA) was formed in 2014 in collaboration with Yale University.
“We had people who said it shouldn’t be done,” said Waldstreicher. “In the end it was the right thing to do for research, for medicine, and for the patient.”
Fifteen years after graduating from Harvard Medical School, Waldstreicher switched directions to pursue a path that, she said, would “make a difference for many millions of people,” becoming head of the endocrinology and metabolism clinical research group at Merck Research Laboratories. There she oversaw the development of many now widely used drugs. Afterward, Waldstreicher was responsible for late-stage development of drugs for Janssen, J&J’s pharmaceutical sector.
Five years ago, she said, she had a vision to foster ethical practices in the medical world and today, she said, “it is my honor to lead a global team of over 1,000 people as chief medical officer.” The position she helped establish in 2013 operates independently of J&J’s commercial sector.
In 2015, she spearheaded a partnership with the Division of Medical Ethics at New York University School of Medicine to create the Compassionate Use Advisory Committee. The group evaluates physician requests for drugs for desperately ill patients not yet approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration.
The NYU doctors “evaluate every request they get,” she said. “They don’t know if the person’s rich or poor, a member of a local political party, man or woman, their race or nationality.”
“Hadassah” she said, “stands up and stands out. You do important things for the right reason.”