UPDATED: J&J makes an R&D splash with $42M venture play, biotech collaborations

Paul Stoffels, chief scientific officer of J&J and Janssen's worldwide chairman of pharmaceuticals

When Johnson & Johnson does an R&D event, they often like to make a flourish--walking the walk as they talk the talk. That high-impact style was on full display in London today as the pharma giant ($JNJ) spearheaded a $42 million venture investment in an up-and-coming antibody developer, inked one collaboration pact on immune-mediated diseases and a second vaccine research partnership that will connect with a pair of biotechs and a research institute.

J&J's London Innovation Center was using the news hooks to draw attention to an event celebrating the life sciences. But more importantly the Big Pharma outfit led by Paul Stoffels was making the point that its new innovation center was up and running, doing deals and investing significant sums in European biotechs--all part of the plan when Stoffels first outlined the development of a global network of innovation hubs with offices in London, Boston, Shanghai and San Francisco, as well as a number of satellite offices.

J&J Development Corporation joined a pair of prominent corporate venture players--Novartis Venture Fund and Pfizer Venture Investments--as well as a pair of smaller investors in adding to the B round of Dutch biotech Merus. The biotech plans to use the added cash to add to its preclinical pipeline of next-gen antibodies, designed to hit multiple cancer targets. The new money will help pay to get its lead program into the clinic next year.

J&J's Janssen also inked a collaboration deal with Effimune to develop and hopefully market FR104, a preclinical antibody fragment in development for immune-mediated diseases. And the innovation center will work with the Crucell Vaccine Institute on a collaboration using DCPrime's tech to complete feasibility studies on a dendritic cell-based vaccine as Crucell works with CureVac on a respiratory vaccine using CureVac technology.

J&J's top scientist, Paul Stoffels, has high hopes for these new innovation centers. "I worked for many years on the other (biotech) side," Stoffels told FierceBiotech recently, "and it helps to have that insight to act now as a very collaborative organization with a lot of respect for the biotech companies you work with."

The string of announcements today underscores a major--and fast--shift for J&J's global research organization, Stoffels tells FierceBiotech today, which required a major change in the company's mindset.

"This was done in the past year," says Stoffels, "going from centralized to decentralized all over the world. I'm very, very happy, very positive of where we stand now."

Patrick Verheyen, who heads the innovation center in London, notes that the investment in Merus's bispecific antibody technology came directly out of the London office, where venture staffers with JJDC mix with scientists and other specialists.

"The response is very good," he adds. "We see a lot of deal flow coming in."

J&J has had great success over the years with its ambitious efforts at in-licensing or buying high-profile blockbuster prospects. That strategy is currently on display with its development of the late-stage cancer treatment ibrutinib with Pharmacyclics ($PCYC). The innovation centers, though, are intended to help spotlight the corporate giant's active involvement in early-stage research work.

You can expect more of these deal packages coming soon to a global hub near you.

- here's the release from Merus
- see the release on the collaborations

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