J&J opens the doors to its new biotech hub in Houston

By Ben Adams

Texas Medical Center

J&J ($JNJ) has opened a new Houston life science hub site as its incubator program continues to reach across North America.

The Texas Medical Center (TMC) in Houston becomes the latest site to be funded by the JLABS program, which works as life sciences incubator for early stage firms. Dubbed JLABS @ TMC, the new hub opened its door for business this week.

JLABS works by providing life science entrepreneurs shared lab space, private offices and modular laboratory suites, as well as state-of-the-art equipment and value-added operational, education and business services--all vital lifelines for startups that struggle to gain enough funding to get off the ground.

JLABS @ TMC builds is the 5th JLABS facility to open in the U.S., with similar sites at San Diego (its flagship site), San Francisco, South San Francisco, Boston and, opening this spring, the first international location in Toronto, Canada.

The Houston site is, however, the first to open with a medical device prototype lab, including a 3-D printer, which will provide firms access to highly specialized tools, as well as skills building programs to design and develop smart health technologies.

JLABS @ TMC can accommodate up to 50 startups, and will open with 21 companies that represent a range of disciplines and geographies and include firms working on virtual reality sets to reduce anxiety in cancer patients, immuno-oncology drug targets and a nonsurgical heart pump.

This first class of resident startups includes the four winners of the JLABS Quick Fire Challenge, which awards promising early stage innovation companies with residency at the facility. These companies are: Adhesys Medical, Alterna Therapeutics, Procyrion and Resonant Therapeutics.

JLABS @ TMC is housed within the TMC Innovation Institute, neighboring TMC's life sciences accelerator TMCx, and the hope is that ideas across both sites may spark new innovations.

But what's in it for J&J's pharma unit Janssen? Well, the firm gains access to some valuable technology and in turn gets to know some of the brightest minds and entrepreneurs in the life sciences space.

Many will likely not make it, but J&J has history in backing some of these startups and set up development collaborations that can help accelerate their growth. If J&J invests in a product or company that develops a future blockbuster, then this would be a good ROI for the firm--and that's exactly what it's betting on.

"Houston is already a very active life sciences hub, and we've recently seen a drive to further embrace the industry, establish clear leadership in biotech innovation and close the gap between research and commercialization," said Melinda Richter, head of JLABS.

Houston's activity in this space extends to the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and the Office of Technology Commercialization (OTC), which have helped build up a number of biotech startups over the past two decades.

Since 1987, OTC has been involved in the creation of 11 affiliated life science companies that have raised more than $300 million on the strength of MD Anderson technologies, including ApoCell, Castle Biosciences and DNATrix.

Four portfolio companies listed on Nasdaq have raised more than $230 million and funded $25 million in sponsored research at MD Anderson. JLABS @ TMC will hope to have similar successes on its books.

Currently, more than 100 early stage companies advancing biopharmaceutical, medical device, consumer and digital health programs are housed in the JLABS program, and this will increase to a total capacity for 225 resident companies once all 6 are open and operational.

- read J&J's release and the full list of the 21 companies here

Special Report: Top women in biopharma 2015 - Melinda Richter, JLABS