J&J Opens San Diego Biotech Startup Center, Says ‘No Strings Attached’

1/18/12Follow @xconomy

Johnson & Johnson’s West Coast research leader, Diego Miralles, has met with a lot of biotech entrepreneurs who are curious about what J&J is doing to foster more startups at its facility in San Diego. At some point, a skeptical question usually comes up.

“What’s the catch?” Miralles says he’s sometimes asked.

He insists there isn’t any catch.

“We are genuinely trying to help the industry,” Miralles said last week in a meeting at the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco. “We think helping the biotech industry helps us. We strongly believe that a rising tide lifts all ships.”

J&J (NYSE: JNJ), which is based in New Brunswick, NJ, has been moving quickly the past few months on a new initiative to help biotech startups get up and running, through its new 30,000 square foot Janssen Labs startup space on the Torrey Pines Mesa. As Bruce first reported here in October, the idea is to create a space at J&J’s facility where 18-20 fledgling companies can get modern lab space, supplies, professional facilities management, and equipment that is supposed to free up the entrepreneurs to focus more on their science.

The life sciences industry has been buzzing about the concept since then, and Monday night more than 500 people turned out to see the new Janssen Labs in San Diego during an open house at J&J’s renamed Janssen Research & Development facility.

J&J insists that it won’t take equity stakes in the startups, or attempt to direct them, but that it hopes the industry, and eventually its shareholders, will benefit by “fertilizing the soil” for more innovation. At Monday night’s soiree, J&J publicly named the initial four startups settling into the space, selected from the first 100 applications that have rolled in from around the world since October.

Big Pharma companies have gotten some heat from entrepreneurs and VCs over the past couple of years for taking advantage of them, essentially by harvesting the best ideas at bargain rates as the startups struggle to raise more venture capital to keep going. But as biotech startups are now less able to fill up Big Pharma’s product pipeline, those same Big Pharma companies are experimenting with new ways to stir up more early-stage R&D. Sanofi CEO Chris Viehbacher has outlined a strategy to shift resources toward startups and academic collaborators, Pfizer has set up a network of academic collaborations around the country, and Bayer has sought to become a landlord to promising startups in San Francisco’s Mission Bay.

Here’s how the J&J startup space is supposed to work. Companies apply for space that can be configured to house one to three people, or as many as 25, Miralles says. Prescience International, the group that runs the San Jose BioCenter, will provide professional management of the space, and to handle … Next Page »

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