The life sciences industry has been challenged over the last several years with an economic environment that is not conducive to breeding new innovation. While things are slowly improving, reports abound of fewer investments in life science start-ups and fewer active investors in the sector. Many new ideas aren’t being developed—because the financial climate can’t support them. This could result in an innovation bottleneck in our industry pipeline as a whole, and one could argue that the next generation of new medicines, medical devices, and other healthcare products is at risk if we don’t do something to improve the environment in which they develop.
Big Pharma has a responsibility to care for and protect the life sciences ecosystem in order to ensure its long-term health and ability to deliver the therapies that patients need. There are currently a number of initiatives being undertaken by large pharmaceutical companies to improve the innovation environment. Some of these efforts support the translation of ideas into drug candidates, while others are aimed at supporting the businesses doing the product development. I’m pleased to see that the pharmaceutical industry is experimenting with different ways in which it can support the life science community through these initiatives. Pharma ultimately benefits from this ecosystem, and has a responsibility to support it.
It has been an honor for me to be a part of founding San Diego’s Janssen Labs, a life science business accelerator located at Janssen Research & Development’s West Coast Research Center. It offers a capital efficient environment where emerging life science companies have access to turnkey laboratory space as well as shared core facilities offering specialized equipment and administrative resources. Earlier this year, Johnson & Johnson also announced the launch of four regional innovation centers in major life sciences communities (California, Boston, China and London) as part of a novel approach to accelerate early innovation and enhance opportunities for collaboration and investment across its global healthcare businesses. Other efforts by big pharma to support an environment where innovation can thrive include Merck establishing the California Institute for Biomedical Research (Calibr) in San Diego to conduct early-stage drug discovery work before in-licensing or passing drug candidates off to others in industry for clinical development. And Bayer has partnered with University of California, San Francisco, to establish an innovation center in San Francisco’s Mission Bay area aimed at moving basic research discoveries to the drug development stage.
While these experiments are still in the early stages, there are some preliminary signs of success. Since we first announced Janssen Labs last fall, we have been inundated with more than 200 inquiries from companies all over the world interested in seeking space there, and 15 companies have now moved in, putting us ahead of schedule at more than 75 percent capacity. We have welcomed companies not just from the San Diego area where Janssen Labs is based, but from other regions around the world, including the Bay Area; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Mexico City, Mexico and Bologna, Italy. This suggests we have created a highly attractive ecosystem for discovery and development. This is exactly what we were striving for, and why we spent so much time trying to understand what barriers life science entrepreneurs are facing and what they need before developing the “no strings attached” Janssen Labs model.
In speaking with entrepreneurs who have inquired about space in Janssen Labs, they have expressed the most important things they need are:
• Flexible space for companies as small as one or two people, with room to grow
• Access to capital intensive equipment
• Access to relationships with potential investors and partners without any strings that inhibit entrepreneurial freedom
It is very exciting for me to see Janssen Labs so full of life. There is an energy that emanates from the entrepreneurs there that is palpable, and it makes me hopeful for the future of our industry—hopeful that our efforts to create an environment where these companies can thrive will result in not only new medicines and medical devices for patients who need them, but also hopeful a healthy recovery in our industry could in turn contribute to a strengthened economy.
Diego Miralles leads Janssen Healthcare Innovation, an entrepreneurial team in the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson. He also is an adjunct full professor in the UC San Diego Pharmacology Department, and has extensive experience in clinical research, mostly in HIV/AIDS, and as an HIV clinician.