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J&J Creates Space at Janssen Labs for Life Sciences Entrepreneurs

Xconomy San Diego — 

Johnson & Johnson’s innovation center, Janssen Labs, has admitted 18 early stage companies since opening its “no strings attached” business accelerator program in San Diego a year ago. Now the incubator is opening its doors to solo entrepreneurs as well. In a statement today, Janssen Research & Development says it is making room at Janssen Labs for individual entrepreneurs in the life sciences, providing them with work space and access to the kind of high-end research tools and equipment needed to determine if an idea is really worth pursuing.

Diego Miralles, who heads J&J’s West Coast Research Center and is Janssen Labs CEO, says the goal is to adjust and improve the Janssen Labs’ model, based on feedback from startup applicants. While the initial concept was designed to foster networking, Miralles says, “we did not foresee the demand to be here, just to be here.”

In a recent interview, Miralles tells me, “The modular model made sense, but it’s not for everybody, and there are companies that don’t need a modular lab and a lockable laboratory, and their price point is lower. Can we address the needs of those people?”

To increase their capacity and services, Janssen Labs is developing a “concept lab” to be leased as 10 individual workstations. Also under construction is a separate shared office space with enough room for 20 people. It includes extra desks for startups enrolled at Janssen Labs and enough room to bring new healthcare entrepreneurs into the facility. Miralles says the office space is not just for scientists, and would be open to individuals who might be raising capital or seeking collaborations.

Miralles describes the design as a “very 21st Century office suite,” with an open layout, modern furnishings, and plenty of natural light. The idea was to create “more of an interactive, tech-like environment” that makes collaboration easy, he says. Janssen Labs also has provided a list of its current tenants, which includes some notable names, such as Troy Wilson, the former CEO at Intellikine (and San Diego Xconomist), who is now heading a startup called Wellspring Biosciences. (The list is below.)

Both additions are scheduled to open by late April and would include access to the Janssen Labs equipment and amenities, including a recently completed cafeteria.

Selection criteria for the individual spaces will be in line with the founding principles; in Miralles’ words, “great people, great science.”

The individuals must be addressing an identified healthcare need, in a field relevant to J&J, and they must be able to pay the rent. “We don’t necessarily finance it,” he says. “The market has to balance it too.”

To make it easier on the entrepreneurs and companies, Miralles says the Janssen Labs contracts can be cancelled with 60 days notice.

The business accelerator program made a lot of financial sense to Linnaeus co-founder Joe Pogliano. He says the Janssen Labs incubator has removed the risks he faced last year in launching his UC San Diego spinoff, which is developing a new method for identifying and characterizing antibiotics.

Mitchell Mutz, the founder and chief scientific officer of another Janssen Labs tenant, Amplyx Pharmaceuticals, says the minimal capital outlay was particularly crucial for their company, a developer of small molecule drugs that began raising funds as the market tightened in 2007. Amplyx initially relied on angel investors who made their investments in installments, rather than an upfront amount. Mutz says the money they saved by moving into the lab also enabled them to hire Dinu Sen, an experienced CEO.

Apart from the deluxe facilities and internal networking, Janssen Labs tenants also could benefit in less tangible ways. For example, the operations team organizes regular visits by investors, foundations, and larger companies. This week they plan to host representatives from the Wellcome Trust, the biomedical research charity based in London.

“It’s really wide open and that’s part of the novelty,” Miralles says.

He says many people find it hard to believe that Janssen Labs truly has no strings attached, but the doors are open to everyone. “These companies are really having relationships with everybody, including the companies that could be perceived as our competitors at big pharma.”

Miralles says a successful outcome for their part, occurs when companies expand or graduate from the facility. In fact, one of the four startups initially admitted into the lab graduated within the first year.

J&J’s costs may be significant, but the company has been positioning itself in the local industry “the goal is to be the center of San Diego biotech,” Miralles states.

So has the Johnson & Johnson experiment in San Diego been successful enough to reprise on the East Coast?

“Given the great success we have had, of course we are considering expansion, not only within the building but expansion to other geographic areas as well,” Miralles says.

Janssen Labs says the following life sciences startups have been admitted to its business accelerator program in San Diego. (Three companies in the program were not identified.)

Amplyx Pharmaceuticals, San Diego: Small molecule therapeutic drug development.

CEO: Dinu Sen

ClinMet, Redwood City, CA: Uses proprietary metabolomic technology to improve the speed and safety of clinical trials.

CEO: Yesh Subramanian

Everist Genomics, Ann Arbor, MI: Developing diagnostics, prognostics, and therapeutic selection technologies for cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Chairman: Thomas Everist

Glycosensors and Diagnostics, Athens, GA: Provides enabling technologies for applications in glycoscience.

President: Robert Woods; Chief Scientific Officer; Lori Yang

Linnaeus Bioscience, San Diego: Developing a novel method for identifying and characterizing antibiotics.

Co-Founders: Joe and Kit Pogliano

Misfolding Diagnostics, San Diego: Researching biomarkers and companion diagnostics for protein amyloid diseases.

Leadership: Undisclosed

NeuroGeneration, Los Angeles, CA: Developing neural stem cell products targeting neurological disorders caused by cell loss or injury.

Founder & CEO: Michel F. Levesque

Neurolixis, San Diego: Developing small molecule compounds for treatment-resistant depression, and other CNS diseases and disorders.

Chief Scientific Officer: Adrian Newman-Tancredi

Renascions, San Diego: Working to improve clinical trial outcomes by optimizing patient recruitment, thereby potentially improving drug efficacy.

CEO: Henry Pan

Sialix, Inc., San Diego: Developing products for illnesses associated with non-human sialic acids.

CEO: Jeffrey Behrens

Silicon Biosystems, Bologna, Italy: Proprietary lab-on-a-chip technology to identify, manipulate, and sort specific cells within a heterogeneous population.

CEO: Giuseppe Giorgini

VLP Biotech, San Diego: Developing proprietary technologies to enhance T-cell response to vaccines.

Founder & CEO: Dave Milich; President: Yemi Onakunle

Wellspring Biosciences, San Diego: Discovering and developing small molecule drugs that target signal transduction networks.

CEO: Troy Wilson

Wibi+Works, LLC, New Orleans, LA: Developing uniform and predictable cell-based therapies for diseases associated with inflammation.

Founder and CSO: Aline M. Betancourt; CEO and Medical Director: Ruth S. Waterman

Yolia Health, Mexico City, Mexico: Developing a non-invasive treatment for presbyopia that improves vision by safely modifying the cornea.

Founder & CEO: Alberto Osio

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