J&J dials up diagnostic R&D with new projects for COPD, gestational diabetes mellitus

Benjamin Wiegand, head of Janssen's DIA

Johnson & Johnson's ($JNJ) Janssen arm is dialing up research through its Disease Interception Accelerator (DIA), a unit focused on predicting and preventing certain diseases through new diagnostic and therapeutic approaches. The company is kicking off two new projects for COPD and gestational diabetes aimed at uncovering the biological underpinnings of the diseases.

The DIA will work with Boston University School of Medicine to uncover disease pathways linked to COPD, and Singapore's Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) on pinpoint biomarkers for gestational diabetes. J&J now has more than two dozen research collaborations underway after unveiling DIA in February 2015.

"Partnerships, like those we have forged with Boston University School of Medicine and A*STAR today, provide critical access to expertise at leading global scientific centers, and advance our research to realize disease interception as a viable strategy to achieving better health for future generations," Ben Wiegand, head of DIA and Janssen Research & Development, said in a statement.

J&J's work with Boston University builds on the school's earlier efforts in COPD. Boston University, with the help of a grant from the U.S. Department of Defense, has been trying to predict which military members and veterans will develop lung cancer. BU researchers got $8 million from J&J to test 1,000 civilian smokers, screening for cell changes in people who eventually develop COPD, the Associated Press reports.

J&J also gave BU researchers and study leader Dr. Avrum Spira another $2.1 million to see how the immune system fails early on in people who develop lung cancer. The team will see whether new drugs could boost the immune system to prevent people from getting the disease.

New Brunswick, NJ-based J&J will also sink funds into finding new biomarkers for women at risk for gestational diabetes. Half of pregnant women would otherwise develop Type 2 diabetes within 10 years, and their babies have an eightfold risk of developing it, Wiegand told the AP. "We've really been trying to introduce a new paradigm," Wiegand said, as quoted by the AP. "We're moving from disease care to health care."

J&J's DIA is keeping busy with other projects. The company has partnered with government bodies, universities, patient advocacy groups and biopharma companies in the past year to ramp up research. Other initiatives include one with JDRF that is focused on the early development of Type 1 diabetes, and another with Denmark's Bavarian Nordic to create a viral-based HPV vaccine.

- here's J&J's statement
- read the AP story