New Janssen Labs Incubator Could Bring Up to 50 Companies to South SF

Xconomy San Francisco — 

Tiny biotech startups will have a new place to germinate in the San Francisco Bay Area. Healthcare giant Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen Labs division is opening a new 30,000 square foot incubator in the biotech-rich suburb of South San Francisco.

The flexible space, complete with common rooms, wet labs, and offices, could hold as many as 50 companies, according to Melinda Richter, a Bay Area incubator veteran tapped last year to head Janssen Labs nationwide. That would roughly double the group’s nationwide capacity, part of the international company’s aggressive reach beyond its walls to find, and fund, new science and technology. “We’re taking a big footprint,” Richter said, with half devoted to shared research equipment and services and half to space that can be customized to individual tenants.

In addition to the new “@South San Francisco” location, as they’ve dubbed it, Janssen Labs also runs an eponymous space in San Diego’s La Jolla neighborhood; occupies part of the LabCentral incubator in Cambridge, MA, and will announce three new tenants there Wednesday night; and in San Francisco proper has [email protected], a joint project with the University of California-affiliated QB3 and private investors.

Not all incubator tenants are fresh from post-doctoral work and starting their entrepreneurial careers. For example, the [email protected] space includes Alzheimer’s startup Alector, which is headed by Genentech alum Arnon Rosenthal. He was co-founder and chief scientist of Rinat Neuroscience, which spun out of Genentech and in 2006 was acquired by Pfizer for half a billion dollars. Rosenthal has already attracted top-tier venture backers—OrbiMed Advisors and Polaris Partners—and industry colleagues, including Dartmouth professor Tillman Gerngross.

Gerngross, Alector’s chairman, has built his extensive connections and his antibody platform company Adimab into a biotech network hub of sorts. Alector is one of many companies using Adimab’s antibody technology.

Less well-connected scientists should find temporary homes in Janssen’s incubators, too. A handful will also find Janssen’s corporate brethren eager to talk about deals. By J&J’s count, of the 53 tenants in the three locations, five so far have struck deals with J&J companies. That includes Alector, which signed a research funding deal with undisclosed terms with Janssen Pharmaceuticals in March.

J&J’s deal and venture teams have an early window into its incubator tenants’ work. To gain entry, tenants have to submit to a screening process; Richter says teams of “rock stars” and a goal of addressing unmet medical needs are two crucial criteria. Janssen Labs is also looking for start-ups working in its parent company’s five main areas of therapeutic focus: neuroscience, oncology, immunology, infectious disease, and cardiovascular and metabolism. But once in, there are no financial strings attached: no equity stakes, no options to license or acquire.

The new location, a short drive from Genentech’s sprawling bayside campus, will be open by the end of the year. Other biotech neighbors will include CytomX Therapeutics, Amgen, and iPierian, recently bought by Bristol-Myers Squibb.