J&J's global hunt for new drugs, cool new tech spurs 17 new deals

J&J CSO Dr. Paul Stoffels

With J&J Innovation's global research tentacles now extended around the world, the pharma giant today took the wraps off its latest collection of collaborations aimed at everything from setting up new "asset-centric" drug development operations with a partner in China to exploring ways to prevent Type 1 diabetes with investigators at Washington University. Its latest tally of 17 new deals and developments also includes a new Innovation hub in Sweden and brings its global total for its deal teams to more than 200 projects over two years running.

"What's really cool," says J&J ($JNJ) CSO Dr. Paul Stoffels, "is that we have made this into a system, taking a systematic approach" to connect the outside world with J&J's inside operations. And there's a heavy emphasis on early-stage research and development in this new roundup of projects.

The new initiatives include:

  • A partnership with Shanghai-based WuXi AppTech ($WX) to in-license drug candidates, using increasingly popular "asset-centric development companies" to jointly develop new products for the Chinese market. J&J joined GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) and Index in setting up a similar kind of asset-centric approach in Europe several years ago. Now Stoffels and his team want to take the same approach in China with an energetic partner that has a long track record providing contract lab services.
    "WuXi is a very knowledgeable organization, with lots of capabilities and an entrepreneurial CEO (Ge Li)," says Stoffels. It also just makes sense to get more involved in China now, he adds, which gives J&J a better relationship with regulators as the pharma giant looks to expand operations in the booming region.
  • New work to be done with Emulate, an organ-on-a-chip spinout from the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard, which recently gathered a $12 million A round. J&J and Emulate will be working with new Lung-on-a-Chip tech to evaluate pulmonary thrombosis and Liver-on-a-Chip to better predict liver toxicity, a classic red flag in drug research that has scuttled programs over the years.
  • Regulators are still assessing this technology, but J&J sees some big opportunities in doing more and better drug evaluations while reducing the need for animal research--still the gold standard in biopharma. "By doing much more research with this type of new model, you can hone in on what are the most likely products you can bring forward," says Stoffels.
  • A collaboration with Janssen labs' graduate Arcturus, which partners the giant pharma with a biotech at work on RNAi drugs using the smaller company's platform for nanoparticle drug delivery.
  • A new hub at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden will become home base for Innovation staffers looking for new technology and new drugs throughout the busy Nordic region. J&J Innovation initially set up four key offices in Shanghai, London, Boston and San Francisco with a plan to add new satellite offices as they fleshed out their global effort.
  • There's a pioneering deal for J&J's Disease Interception Accelerator, with pharma researchers joining forces with award-winning immunologist Emil Unanue at Washington University. They'll be examining the role of antigen-presenting cells in the initiation and development of Type 1 diabetes, looking to see if a new way can be found to prevent Type 1 diabetes before it develops.

Other deals include a collaboration with Toronto-based MaRS Innovation, new partnerships with German investigators, a fresh take on antibody discovery with Paris-based HiFiBiO, and several inflammatory disease projects for asthma, IBD and ankylosing spondylitis.

- here's the release for more information

Special Report: The 25 most influential people in biopharma in 2015 - Ge Li - WuXi PharmaTech