UPDATE: J&J to shut down massive Bay Area R&D facility less than 18 months after opening it

Johnson & Johnson is closing a nearly 200,000 square-foot R&D outpost in Brisbane, California, less than 18 months after it opened, according to multiple sources familiar with the decision.

A J&J spokesperson confirmed the closure in a statement sent to Fierce Biotech Sunday evening, saying the company “will continue to have a significant footprint in California” across its pharma and medtech units, plus the establishment of a “new California Innovation Center.”

In conjunction with the closure, the company has implemented 55 permanent layoffs that will go into effect by April 26, according to a California Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) filed Feb. 23. While a J&J spokesperson confirmed that the layoffs were related to the R&D site closure, the company declined to share more information about the type of roles impacted.

Sources familiar with the matter told Fierce the decision to close the San Francisco Bay Campus (SFBC) was relayed to staff on Thursday. The site recently hosted J&J's Gene Therapy Summit on Feb. 15. 

“As the world’s largest and most diversified healthcare products company, we continually assess our operations to invest for the future and deliver the greatest impact to patients,” the spokesperson said.

The SFBC opened in September 2022 to much fanfare, more than doubling the company’s R&D footprint in the Bay Area at the time, with plans to hire up to 400 people. The focus of the campus was emerging gene and RNA-based therapies, plus research on retinal and infectious diseases. 

But the company slowly began to pull back from those priorities within the pharma wing, particularly in the infectious disease and vaccine unit, which dwindled over the course of 2023 from select asset deprioritizations to cutting R&D altogether, sources and internal company communications revealed. James Merson, Ph.D., former head of the infectious disease unit, was the original site head for SFBC, but he departed the company when the unit merged with the vaccine team in the first half of 2023. 

Top company brass was bullish on the campus’s value when it opened, with CEO Joaquin Duato saying in a release at the time that the campus represented a commitment to investing in state-of-the-art tech and new research. 

“On this campus, our talented teams will use their diverse experience and expertise to tackle society’s greatest health challenges to create a better future for patients,” he said. J&J said in its announcement that SFBC would “enable the expansion” of the company’s discovery work and pipeline. 

The Brisbane site joined J&J’s JLABS campus in South San Francisco, an incubator and accelerator for small biotech companies to grow. The Bay Area location launched in 2015 and was JLABS’ first standalone incubator. 

The R&D site closure comes shortly after J&J rebranded following the spinoff of its consumer health unit, known as Kenvue. Gone is the Janssen Pharmaceuticals name, replaced by Johnson & Johnson Innovative Medicine.

Research and development exceeded $15 billion overall in 2023, a record for the company, compared to $14.1 billion in 2022.

Editor's note: This story has been updated on Feb. 28, 2024, to note layoffs associated with the R&D center closure. 

Gabrielle Masson contributed to this report.