J&J Innovation settles into a fast-paced global swirl of dealmaking

Robert Urban, head of Johnson & Johnson's Innovation Center in Cambridge, MA

Over the last 6 months or so, Johnson & Johnson's ($JNJ) big new innovation initiative has been bringing together deal teams in key R&D hot spots around the world with an eye to laying claim to some of the most important new technologies surfacing in the industry. Earlier this week, the pharma giant laid out a slate of 8 new collaborations forged by the innovation teams in London, Boston and San Francisco, fleshing out the global structure of a project that will include a new biotech incubator in Israel as well as a Shanghai office, which is expected to be officially open for business later this year.

"We think of ourselves as one team, one team in different centers," Robert Urban, who's heading up the Boston-area office, tells FierceBiotech. Like the rest of the major centers, J&J's Cambridge, MA, office in Kendall Square includes 20-plus professionals drawn from various disciplines. Like the other centers, Boston has a mandate that spreads out across a broad geographic area. In its case, Boston covers the eastern half of the U.S. And the deals that it's been doing illustrate Urban's mission.

In addition to a new deal recently struck with Scholar Rock, a company flagged by their partners at Polaris, Urban is also shepherding a translational collaboration with M.D. Anderson in Texas on personalized cancer therapies. And they have a deal with Intrexon ($XON), run by biotech billionaire Randal 'RJ' Kirk, to work on new hair-care products for the company's consumer unit.

Out in California, meanwhile, the J&J team has struck a deal with Sutro to launch a new vaccines company, SutroVax, to develop novel jabs using Sutro's development platform. They're working with Nodality on improving the odds for new programs concerning rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease. And they've invested in Assembly Pharmaceuticals, a biotech startup focused on viral infections.

London, meanwhile, has an antibody deal in place with Bioceros and a new investment in TopiVert, which is developing topical therapies for inflammatory conditions of the gut and eye.

J&J has been inking dozens of new tech deals each year for some time now, but generally well below the industry radar. But like many of its industry rivals, J&J is getting much more aggressive about its presence in the global biotech arena. Merck recently announced its own plan to follow J&J's lead on creating new worldwide innovation centers. GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) is adding offices in Boston and San Diego. And companies like Pfizer ($PFE) and Sanofi ($SNY) have been bulking up in key hubs like Boston as well.

"It's good news for all of us," says Urban. "We have to change what we do."

- here's the release