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Big pharma is seeking new ways to both innovate and encourage innovation, since this is the way towards finding healthcare solutions that can save more lives, with lower cost.
In July, Johnson & Johnson Innovation (JLABS) partnered with the University of Pennsylvania to create a space for accelerating healthcare innovation and commercialization in Philadelphia and elsewhere.
JPOD @ Philadelphia opened November 1st at the university’s Pennovation Center, a two-year-old full-service business and technology incubator. It will allow for video conferencing between JLabs entrepreneurs and their J&J gurus across the company’s global network. This includes developers of pharmaceuticals, medical devices and digital health technologies.
JPOD is a networking hub which has as main goal of identifying and accelerating the development of early-stage healthcare solutions from the Philadelphia region’s life science ecosystem. The idea is to support finding solutions for as yet unmet medical needs, be they medical devices, pharmaceuticals, consumer and/or health technologies. The JPOD will also support innovators with training, mentoring and networking programs designed to equip them with a mix of resources to help advance their success.
A first of its kind in the U.S., the JPOD is smaller compared to the other locations in Johnson & Johnson Innovation’s no-strings-attached support program. However, Penn is providing the startups with more tangible, hands-on assistance.
This includes J&J’s 12-month health tech course. Available to everyone within JLabs, the training examines the development of smart therapy delivery devices, mobile management apps and patient engagement programs. Participants are also taught how to use digital health applications to find and prevent disease.
Of course, the use of AI and blockchain in healthcare, not only as final products, but also as means to develop and test new treatments, is one of the main focuses for JPOD, which will also try to find better solutions for dealing with payers and providers.
According to its 2018 Impact Report, an annual update on the state of the incubator’s residents and alumni companies released October 25, 2018, things look good for JLABS Companies.
They have secured $11.6 billion through financing and strategic relationships, a 23 percent increase from 2017’s total. In addition, 26 percent of companies reported having products on the market, with another 26 percent with therapies in clinical trials. In the past six years, JLABS has grown to support over 450 companies working to improve health for humanity at 13 sites worldwide.
From first-time entrepreneurs to serial scientific founders, JLABS residents represent diverse experiences across academic, start-up, corporate, and venture worlds.
JLABS supports diversity amongst the group of entrepreneurs. 111 companies, representing 26 percent of the total, are led by women, more than twice the percent of last year. 98 companies, or 23 percent, are minority-led, a 78 percent gain from 2017. The vast majority , 65 percent of the companies, are part of the pharmaceutical industry, 21 percent create medical devices, and 12 percent are working to solve consumer related issues.
In his article published on medium.com, Cris de Luca recognizes J&J innovation efforts. “Of course I’d like to give huge credit to J&J for launching the Center for Device Innovation (CDI@TMC), announcing the opening of JLABS@NYC(June ’18) and for hosting over 40 QuickFire Challenges to source innovation from around the world across a portfolio of categories. This has created a truly global network of open innovation synergies between innovators and J&J Innovation & JLABS”, he says.
JLABS provides residents with added value to their research, support and guidance, while ensuring they remain free to create. According to the 2018 Impact Report, the numbers speak for themselves:
Since growing and gaining more money while curing diseases is the goal for all healthcare companies, JLABS seems to be a very useful model. It was created in 2012 as a new model to address specific challenges to accelerate healthcare innovation and commercialization at each of its hubs and around the world. Six years in, JLABS has 13 locations worldwide; Shanghai will open a facility in 2019.
In 2018, according to the mentioned report, JLABS received over 4,000 applications from companies in more than 70 countries.
Health startups face challenges unlike any other emerging company and require different kinds of support to grow and make it to market. The 2018 Impact Report details how resident companies at every stage have found success:
JLABS’ no-strings-attached model has helped residents without taking any equity or intellectual property, and encourages collaboration while providing access to the world’s leading experts, executives and businesspeople to help resident companies grow.
As in other cases within the medical industry, the motivation for some of J&J’s players comes from personal struggles and frustration with what the healthcare system is providing or from personal experience.
For Melinda Richter, Global Head of Johnson & Johnson Innovation, JLABS, personal health issues meant that she not only totally changed her life, but she also profoundly modified the way J&J sees innovation in healthcare. According to entrepreneur.com, she was in her 20s and in Beijing for a special leadership conference. A toxic bug bite caused her to develop meningitis, and things looked so dire that doctors did not know whether she would ever recover. Sleeping through the night was hard, when she did not have the certainty she would wake up in the morning. From this experience, she realised how behind the health system was, compared to other industries. That was when she made the decision to reconverse herself professionally towards the health industry, if she survived the meningitis. Luckily, she did survive. She changed her life and is now in a position to influence many other lives, by encouraging innovation in healthcare and supporting new progressive ideas.
Experiences like hers make the difference when it comes to JLABS and its newly opened Philly JPOD. The mere existence of such a project is unlikely to have otherwise been possible.