Johnson & Johnson today opens its Innovation Center in Boston, one of four planned centers through which the pharma giant aims to replenish its pipeline by stoking more R&D collaborations with early-stage businesses.

As with similar sites in London and Menlo Park, CA, the Boston center will host a 25- to 30-person team of business, science, and transaction professionals focused on building early-stage collaborations with emerging companies, entrepreneurs, and academic centers across eastern North America. J&J says the team will have full and broad deal-making capabilities, and can adapt deal structures to match early-stage needs and opportunities.

Also based at the center will be representatives from J&J’s venture capital subsidiary, Johnson & Johnson Development Corp. (JJDC), who will identify and invest in external startups.

“The fact that we bring all these different people with all these different capabilities together gives us a lot of flexibility on how we can collaborate with companies. It’s not ‘Do it the J&J way or no way,’” Paul Stoffels, M.D., J&J’s CSO and worldwide chairman, pharmaceuticals, told GEN. “The Innovation Center in Boston is a window-on-the-world from Johnson & Johnson into the area of Boston. We hope to be able to make many collaborations and venture capital investments, which will result in very successful product development, ultimately.”

Heading the Boston Innovation Center will be Robert G. Urban, Ph.D., previously executive director of the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT.

In opening the Boston Innovation Center, J&J also announced four initiatives designed to generate additional early-stage innovation.

J&J will join New York’s Mount Sinai Icahn School Of Medicine in a research alliance focused on studying inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), drawing on the teaching hospital’s strengths in treating the disease, as well as in bioinformatics and data on large patient populations. While the alliance will primarily carry out basic research on the molecular basis of the disease, researchers may also begin clinical validation of findings as well.

“That research alliance will allow us over time to understand biomarkers and other clinical attributes that will further advance our drug development exercises and make sure that we get the most out of the treatments that we have available for those patients, as well as hopefully discover new treatments,” Dr. Urban told GEN.

JJDC invested in startup Rodin Therapeutics, which seeks to develop new therapeutics for Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological disorders based on epigenetic modifiers. JJDC has been an early-stage investor in Rodin with Atlas Ventures.

JJDC also invested in Vedanta Biosciences, a developer of therapeutics designed to modulate interaction pathways between the microbiome and host immune system. Co-founded by PureTech Ventures, Vedanta aims to advance a first-in-class preclinical drug candidate for autoimmune and inflammatory diseases including IBD, as well as a drug-discovery platform to mine mechanisms by which the microbiome modulates the immune system.

J&J will also expand its Janssen Labs incubator beyond California into Cambridge, MA, where it will occupy part of the shared lab space for entrepreneurs being built by nonprofit LabCentral, set to open later this year.

The Boston center opens less than a month after J&J opened its California Innovation Center in Menlo Park, and more than three months after the London Innovation Centre opened. The London site houses J&J’s year-old collaboration with two U.K.-based partners, GlaxoSmithKline and Index Ventures. The three created a €150 million ($200 million) fund to invest in early-stage, single-asset life sciences companies with assets having first- or best-in-class mechanisms of action, targeting areas of unmet medical need.

By year’s end, Dr. Stoffels said, J&J will open its fourth Innovation Center in Shanghai, designed to foster collaborations with partners from China and elsewhere in Asia. 

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