February 1, 2017 (Vol. 37, No. 3)

Industry Watch: J&J Innovation Adds 15 Collaborations to Its Ecosystem

Johnson & Johnson (J&J) Innovation’s collaboration ecosystem stands at 300 strategic transactions and growing. The newest 15 collaborations, announced recently, continue the J&J unit’s focus on partnering with early- and late-stage companies and institutions to develop new healthcare solutions in areas of interest to J&J, while enhancing its presence in Europe.

Among the areas of focus for some of the newest collaborations are NASH (with Bird Rock Bio), depression (with Amorsa Therapeutics), RNA-based treatments for infectious diseases and cancers (with Synthetic Genomics), and prediction of immunotherapy success (with Canada’s Centre for Probe Discovery and Commercialization).

J&J Innovation says it seeks technologies that fit into J&J’s five strategic areas of interest. For Pharma, that includes cardiovascular diseases and metabolism; immunology; infectious diseases and vaccines; neuroscience; and oncology.

“We always look for approaches that are novel and differentiated,” Robert Urban, Ph.D., global head of J&J Innovation, told GEN. “We are looking for the technologies that involve cutting-edge science and could be transformative for patients. Once we find a promising technology, we work with the company or institution to evaluate what would be most beneficial for the advancement of the technology.”

Four of the newest partners are the first resident companies in J&J Innovation’s new JLINX initiative. The four focus on microbiome-based skincare solutions (S-Bimedic) and microbiota-based products for cardio-metabolic disease (Caelus Health), as well as RNA-based immunotherapies (eTheRNA) and proof-of-concept and biomarker studies for cancer treatments (Octimet Oncology).

Launched last year with Bioqube Ventures, JLINX has similarities to J&J Innovation’s JLABS incubator network, which has nurtured more than 200 companies in the U.S. and Canada. Both offer resources to scientists and entrepreneurs, including state-of-the-art facilities and access to venture funding and R&D expertise.

However, JLINX is located at the Janssen R&D Campus in Beerse, Belgium, one of the company’s largest R&D facilities with thousands of people and capabilities that include manufacturing.

“JLABS has had enormous success since it launched in 2012, expanding from one to seven sites since then. We recognized similar needs in Europe as well as a need for venture investment in the region,” Dr. Urban said.

Genomics & Proteomics: Edico Genome and Dell Bundle-Up NGS Data Solutions

Edico Genome recently announced its new collaboration with Dell EMC to address the growing need for computational and storage solutions essential to next-generation sequencing (NGS) and for the field of genomics.

The partnership is looking to offer a pre-configured, out-of-the-box solution for rapid analysis and efficient storage of NGS data that includes Edico Genome’s DRAGENTM processor. The processor will be integrated into a 1U Dell 4130 server for ultra-rapid genome analysis and Dell EMC’s Isilon scale-out networked attached storage for ultra-efficient genomic data storage across all levels of throughput capacity.

This new bundle enables analysis of a whole genome in as little as 22 minutes, a process that currently takes over a day using standard software. Benefits of rapid genomic analysis include faster diagnoses (for critically ill newborns, cancer patients, and expecting parents undergoing prenatal testing), in addition to faster results for basic science researchers and drug development scientists.  

“We believe our high-performance computing, storage, and cloud platforms, combined with Edico Genome’s next-generation sequencing bio-IT processor, DRAGEN, provides increased speed and accuracy and will accelerate time-to-insight for healthcare and life science organizations,” said David DeAngelis, general manager, global healthcare team, Dell EMC.

Edico’s announcement comes at a very appropriate time, given the new position statement from the American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics, which advocates for extensive sharing of laboratory and clinical genomic data.

Corresponding with GEN, Edico Genome’s President and CEO Pieter van Rooyen, Ph.D., remarked that “Edico’s partnership with Dell EMC brings genomics to an even broader market, including hospitals and other healthcare settings which haven’t historically had the tools to manage large amounts of genomic data. Integration of the DRAGEN platform into Dell EMC servers and storage hardware will drive greater levels of healthcare-based genomics research.”

In the age of genomics and increased data transfer, security is a constant concern. However, Dr. van Rooyen reassured GEN that “Edico has obtained all security certifications (ISO 27001 and HIPAA) for both onsite and the cloud. For customers that have regulatory requirements that don’t allow them to move their data beyond their premises, Edico’s onsite solution provides complete security.”

Bioprocessing: A Promoter! A Promoter! My Industry for a Promoter!

The “want of a nail” proverb, which stresses how seemingly small omissions can have momentous consequences, could be apply to the biopharma industry. The original proverb is often associated with Richard III, who supposedly complained that the absence of a spare horse-shoe nail triggered a chain of calamities—a lost horse, a lost battle, a lost kingdom. An updated version of the proverb could start with the absence of effective promoters and end with the unseating of biopharma executives—or at least the dimming of biopharma’s growth prospects.

According to Mordor Intelligence, biopharma represents a global market of $177 billion, and it is currently expected to maintain an annual growth rate of 8.6% through 2021. With numbers like that, a lot is at stake. So much, in fact, that the biopharma industry can ill afford to neglect any factor that could significantly impact productivity.

One such factor is the promoter, the DNA sequence that is needed for a gene to attract transcriptional machinery, instigate expression, and drive protein production. At present, most promoters are natural. Alas, many of them are unsuited to the unnatural demands of the industrial environment. And so, biopharma is showing increasing interest in synthetic promoters. Such promoters, according to recent reviews, could be engineered to bring a finer degree of control to protein production, while retaining modularity (e.g., the ability to operate across different cell lines or expression platforms).

In the meantime, platform tools are being developed to achieve specific industrial goals. For example, a developer of synthetic promoters, Synpromics, recently announced a collaboration with GE Healthcare. These companies say that they will work together to develop customized synthetic promoters optimized for GE Healthcare’s biopharma manufacturing platform.

Synpromics will develop a complex, barcoded library of synthetic promoters, using its PromPT platform, for extensive screening in GE Healthcare’s CHO-based expression system. The resulting characterized promoter toolbox is anticipated to have broad applicability for increasing biopharma yields, including those for difficult-to-manufacture proteins. GE Healthcare is paying an upfront technology access fee and will have the rights to commercialize the improved platform.

Molecular Diagnostics: 2PG’s Nanopore-Based Cancer Monitoring Platform to Be Evaluated by UCSF Researchers

A novel device that could be a revolutionary new way to monitor patients from home for the recurrence of cancer will be road-tested by oncologists at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). Santa Cruz, CA-based Two Pore Guys (2PG) has tasked UCSF researchers with evaluating its handheld nanopore-based platform in the detection of cell-free, circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) from patient liquid biopsies.

The study, to be conducted by Andrew Ko, M.D., professor of hematology/oncology and a specialist in gastrointestinal cancer at the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, will focus on detecting the KRAS G12D mutation among ctDNAs obtained from patient blood and urine samples.

“Cancer recurrence is a constant battle, and treatment is a race against time,” said Dr. Ko. “The sooner we can detect a recurrence, the sooner we can change or augment a patient’s therapy and improve his or her chances of survival.”

2PG has high hopes for liquid biopsy as an important tool in the future of cancer treatment,” according to Dan Heller, CEO. “The ability to accurately monitor mutations using a simple and inexpensive device could improve the quality of care we can provide while significantly reducing healthcare costs.”

2PG does not intend to go to market with its own assays. Its core IP defines how to make reagents that work with third-party diagnostic chemistries, thereby allowing industry partners to adapt existing assays and to enter new markets using 2PG’s platform.

In addition to the device being ideal for point-of-use applications, the company reports that it is designed to sync with a smartphone or computer for further analysis and data sharing, including integration with electronic health records.

Two Pore Guys makes a digital, hand-held device that uses nanopore-based technology to detect the presence or absence of a target sequence from a DNA sample. The company asserts that its platform is as accurate as medical lab equipment, but is as inexpensive and easy to use as a blood glucose monitor.

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