Hub’s Slice of J&J’s R&D Investment Pie—New Funds from the Medical-Products Giant for Harvard and CIMIT

8/18/08

It’d be really cool if Johnson & Johnson published a compendium of every nascent technology study it funds through its some $8 billion annual research and development budget—particularly for those of us interested to know which Boston-area institutions are on the receiving end of those J&J R&D dollars.

Unfortunately no such master list is publicly available so, with help from a local tech executive, I tracked down Dave Bowser, J&J’s vice president of tech transfer and university relations. Dave, who works in J&J’s home state of New Jersey, wasn’t able to provide the master list I wanted either, but he did clue me in on at least one undisclosed investment the company’s made recently. It turns out that J&J (NYSE:JNJ) is a backer of Harvard’s Technology Development Accelerator Fund, a venture designed to improve the commercial chops of biomedical research at the university. (Bob drilled down to some of the details and dynamics of fund earlier this year).

“We don’t know where the next big breakthrough is going to be, so we put money into many areas,” Bowser says. “Certainly, Harvard is a key place you want to partner with.” Bowser, who wouldn’t divulge the sum J&J injected into Accelerator, says that the investment won’t necessarily give the company first rights to license discoveries resulting from work supported by the fund. Yet J&J’s bet on the fund is part of a broader effort to keep the company close to innovative institutions, he says.

For sure, other major pharmaceutical and medical devices firms are competing for the same tight relations J&J seeks with research centers in and around the Hub. Drug juggernaut Merck MRK), for instance, recently announced a collaboration aimed at discovering new treatments for osteoporosis.

Bowser notes that J&J, rather than making large gifts to R&D institutions, prefers to spread its bets widely. This strategy was on display last month when the company awarded six $50,000 grants to medical researchers at Boston-area hospitals affiliated with the Center for Integration of Medicine and Innovative Technology (CIMIT). At any given time, Bowser estimates, his office supports 120 to 150 grant-funded academic studies. In fact, his office touts the fact that it awarded a $100,000 grant to fund Craig Mello’s Nobel Prize-winning research of RNAi at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. (Of course, Mello and Andrew Fire won the Nobel in October 2006, less than a month after J&J announced its award to Mello.)

It’s tough to make direct links between the academic research supported by J&J and the technology it actually licenses for commercial development. Still, both Harvard and Dana Farber Cancer Institute made the company’s list of featured partnerships aiding its product pipeline, Harvard for contributing its transgenic mice used in drug research and Dana Farber for discovering biomarkers the company used to identify melanomas.

I’ll keep wishing for a supreme roster of J&J-funded tech projects, and meantime I’ll keep sniffing out where the medical products giant confers its outside R&D cash in New England. If you know of more projects (and you’re not bound by one of the company’s muzzle orders), post a comment to fill in the blanks.

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