Enlight Biosciences and Industry Giant Johnson & Johnson Forge Partnership

Xconomy Boston — 

Enlight Biosciences, a Boston-based biotech firm advancing new technologies used in the discovery and development of drugs, said today it has gained a commitment from Johnson & Johnson to invest up to $13 million in its programs.

Johnson & Johnson, the New Brunswick, NJ-based healthcare giant (NYSE:JNJ), is the latest drugmaker to form a partnership with Enlight. The list of Enlight’s partners now includes Eli Lilly, Merck, and Pfizer. Enlight now has attracted as much as $52 million to direct toward technologies intended to help its Big Pharma partners improve their chances of bringing breakthrough drugs to the market.

“When you’re developing technologies where you’re trying to drive industry adoption, having multiple big pharmas around the table from the very beginning has a great impact,” says David Steinberg, founding CEO of Enlight. Steinberg is part of the team at Boston’s PureTech Ventures, which co-founded Enlight and manages the company.

Enlight aims to address a crucial need among pharma companies to develop technologies in such fields as molecular imaging, drug formulation, and drug synthesis—all of which could improve R&D needed to fill the pharma firms’ ailing pipelines with new drugs. Johnson & Johnson and its peers are struggling to find new drugs to replace the revenues from older products that face present or future competition from generic drugs. (In fact, J&J got a call to action to launch new drugs this week when it reported a 67.4 percent decline in fourth-quarter 2008 sales of blockbuster schizophrenia drug risperidone (Risperdal), which the company blamed on generic drug competition.)

Luke captured the ongoing dilemma facing the pharma industry in his story about the public launch of Enlight in July 2008, in which he wrote that drug companies are pumping record-high billions of dollars into research and development while actual U.S. drug approvals are lagging.

Johnson & Johnson hopes to collaborate with Enlight’s other pharma partners to identify technologies that could help all of them overcome R&D hurdles. “Participation in this initiative will allow us to work with our consortium peers to identify technology needs and influence future industry standards,” says Gary Neil, corporate vice president of J&J’s Office of Sciences and Technology, in a statement.

Enlight’s pharma partners get to choose the programs in which they invest, while Enlight tracks down the technologies worthy of their investment from multiple academic and industry sources. Enlight has already launched a virtual startup, Endra, which develops technology that combines the capabilities of ultrasound and optical imaging to, for example, show researchers whether a drug is shrinking tumors during clinical trials, Steinberg says.

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