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Johnson & Johnson Launches ‘No-Strings’ Biotech Incubator in La Jolla

Janssen Research & Development LLC, a pharmaceutical subsidiary of New Brunswick, N.J.-based Johnson & Johnson, on Jan. 17 opened the doors of its 30,000-square-foot life science innovation center in Torrey Pines Mesa.

The center, Janssen Labs, will provide 18-20 small companies with offices, flexible lab space and access to expensive scientific equipment in exchange for a relatively small monthly rent.

“This arrangement allows the companies to focus on the development of the science instead of setting up and managing the labs,” said Diego Miralles, who oversees Johnson & Johnson’s West Coast Research Center, in which Janssen Labs is located.

Miralles said the “open innovation” model is designed to reduce startup costs for biotech companies and bring novel drugs and devices to the market faster.

Johnson & Johnson does not have any stake in the companies accepted to reside in the center, nor does it have any guaranteed business relationship, such as a first-look agreement with companies developing investigational drugs.

In fact, incubator companies are allowed to partner with any pharmaceutical firm they wish.

All that Johnson & Johnson wants out of the deal, Miralles said, is to develop personal relationships with the innovation center companies.

“Everything in life is personal,” he said. “If, at the end of the day, this gives us preferential access to good ideas, it was worth it.”

Among those who attended the grand opening and toured the new facility were big names in San Diego health care, biotech and government — people such as genomic medicine guru Eric Topol of Scripps Health, biotech entrepreneur and venture capitalist Ivor Royston, and San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, who proclaimed Jan. 17 to be Janssen Labs Day in San Diego.

“Janssen Labs, quite frankly, is an experiment for us,” said Sheri McCoy, Johnson & Johnson vice chairman. “But we are optimistic that this will be a model for future innovation.”

The center’s operations will be managed by San Francisco-based Prescience International, which oversees a similar incubator in San Jose. Prescience Founder and CEO Melinda Richter said more than 100 companies from around the world have applied to be a part of Janssen Labs. Monthly rents start at around $3,000, but vary widely depending on space and lab requirements, she said.

Only four leases are signed so far. Companies include DNA analysis company Diomics; a small-molecule drug development firm Neurolixis, which targets various brain diseases; medical diagnostic company Tem Systems; and optometric device company Yolia Health, founded by well-known Mexican entrepreneurs Alberto and Eduardo Osio.

— Kelly Quigley


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