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‘Lab Partner’: Shared Space Is Big Help to Small Firms

Lori Yang needed lab space. But just a little.

Yang, co-founder and chief scientific officer of Athens, Ga.-based biotechnology startup Glycosensors and Diagnostics LLC, works remotely from San Diego. Since the company is in its nascence, the expense of maintaining an entire lab wasn’t worth it. But she needed lab access nonetheless, to get preliminary data for upcoming projects and grants.

Enter Janssen Labs, and its newly opened shared laboratory space in San Diego. It recently announced that it now offers entrepreneurs access to single bench spaces to perform early stage research before committing additional capital, allowing companies and individuals desk space in an incubatorlike environment. The lab is shared, but the scientists are nonetheless allowed locked storage space to keep their research confidential.

“That’s why the Janssen Lab concept was ideal — I just needed a small amount of space for the short term,” Yang said. “The infrastructure is great — they have people helping with administration and operations, and that really relieves some of the burden for me. And the shared equipment is great as well, so you don’t have to invest lots of money as a small startup.”

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Early Results

Janssen Labs, a 32,000-square-foot life science innovation center that is part of Janssen Research & Development LLC, currently houses 18 companies in modular lab spaces and offices. The Janssen Lab model is quite new — it opened a year ago with four companies, and has since grown significantly.

“The space we initially provided were all suites you can lock, but some people said they didn’t necessarily need that, but rather a smaller space, a smaller footprint,” said Diego Miralles, head of Janssen West Coast Research Center.

Miralles said the building already had a large room filled with unused equipment, so it was repurposed into a new laboratory, called the Concept Lab and Open Collaboration Space. The new space can house up to 20 companies on a month-to-month basis — which will allow Janssen to double its tenancy.

The lab offers more than 70 pieces of common equipment, along with essential laboratory features like fume hoods, refrigeration, emergency power, conference rooms and high-speed Internet. Ancillary staff helps the tenants secure permits, submit purchase orders for supplies, work with the media, and avoid safety hazards. Miralles didn’t disclose the price, but Yang said it was “affordable.”

“It makes starting a biotech company much more like starting a tech company because you can literally do it with a credit card,” Miralles said.

No Strings Attached

Janssen Labs follows a no-strings-attached model — surrendering a stake in the startup’s revenues to Janssen Labs or parent company Johnson & Johnson Services Inc. is not a prerequisite for working in the lab space.

“We may pursue it, but we don’t have to have a financial stake in the companies,” Miralles said. “The financial investment in the company is completely separate from the company being in Janssen Labs.

Yang’s company has already moved into the new open collaboration space, and three others are under review, Miralles said.

Many of the companies are California-based, but the lab space offers out-of-state companies an opportunity to build a presence in San Diego. Current tenants of the modular lab spaces include Ann Arbor-based Everist Genomics, which develops diagnostics for cancer and cardiovascular disease; Bologna, Italy-based Silicon Biosystems, which uses microchip technology to manipulate and sort cells, and Yolia Health in Mexico City, which works to modify patients’ corneas to improve vision.

Evaluation Process

Companies are chosen from the biotech, pharmaceutical, medical device and diagnostics arenas, and are evaluated based on their scientific credibility, proof of medical or market need, and whether they demonstrate financial solvency.

Small-scale lab facilities are otherwise rare in San Diego, Yang said. She explored several options before approaching Janssen Labs.

“I was just interested in a small bench space, so I was looking at other companies that were subleasing within their own labs, and that wasn’t really working out,” Yang said. “They couldn’t afford to allow me to share certain equipment or reagents because they had to be kept separately. Someone pointed out Janssen labs, saying this might be a better situation — and indeed it was.”

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