J&J is officially cutting the ribbon on its new partnering office in Shanghai, completing the pharma giant's global plan to hit the ground running in all the world's top biotech hot spots. It's starting out in style, with J&J ($JNJ) taking the wraps off of a lineup of new discovery deals with universities in the region. And it's spreading out feelers for more deals through satellite offices in Australia, Singapore and Japan.
Over the course of the past year J&J has been building its team in Shanghai, recently reassigning Dong Wu--a consumer specialist--to take over as head of the Johnson & Johnson Innovation Asia Pacific Innovation Center. The center takes its place with three other primary hub offices for J&J in Boston, London and San Francisco.
A recent visit of their London office included a look at the network's state-of-the-art communications equipment, including a wall-sized screen for plenty of on-the-spot interactions between teams--which can take place regardless of time zones.
"It's one of the challenges," Dong Wu tells FierceBiotech with a laugh. If he calls one of the other teams at 2 a.m. Shanghai time, they get to call back for the next chat at 3 a.m. their time.
Each of the offices contributes some deep experience in one of the key partnering arenas that J&J has mapped out: new medicines, medical devices, and consumer products. And the teams are also staffed with dealmakers, attorneys and scientists, including visiting researchers who may be called in to help out with a transaction.
Altogether these global teams have forged more than 80 collaborations, including a half-dozen new ones in China and Australia. And it's no coincidence that these new Asian pacts focus heavily on discovery deals with academics--something Dong Wu says is characteristic of an industry that is still very much in the early stages of development in China.
There's a new deal with Queensland's James Cook University to explore whether proteins produced by hookworms could provide effective treatment for inflammatory bowel disease; a new effort to identify peptides that could work against pain; a collaboration with China Pharmaceutical University will include a research and discovery collaboration around a novel antibody-drug conjugate to treat solid tumors, along with new work on GPCRs at Peking University.
"The ecosystem is very early stage," the hub chief adds. "We are much more in an early development stage."
But it won't stay that way. New biotech startups in the region, often led by returning Chinese academics and entrepreneurs, are expected to ramp up clinical-stage work. And the Chinese government has been stoking the flames, pushing the expansion of its healthcare industry as one of the 7 key economic pillars in its latest 5-year plan.
"Our goal is to collaborate with the best minds in the region to advance new technologies and deliver transformative solutions for the people of China and Asia Pacific at large, and throughout the world," said Paul Stoffels, J&J's chief scientific officer and the chief proponent of the new network.
- here's the release