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New ways to detect, intercept, treat and track life threatening diseases were at the forefront of the 35th annual JP Morgan Healthcare Conference. But as much was made of the remarkable innovations highlighted at JPM, Johnson & Johnson Innovation’s Robert G. Urban, reflects on how much more can be accomplished when it comes to Diversity & Inclusion.
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A Passion for Deal-Making#dealmaking
Marianne De Backer, Ph.D., MBA, vice president of Johnson & Johnson Innovation, Janssen Business Development, is a deal-maker extraordinaire, helping to forge fruitful business partnerships that result in innovative new therapies. We recently caught up with Dr. De Backer amidst her busy travel schedule to hear about the new trends in healthcare and learn more about her impressive career path at Johnson & Johnson, where she’s transitioned from the “lab bench” to the “bed side” and from innovative technology licensing to the frontlines of late-stage deal-making.
Tell us about some of the new healthcare technologies that are really catching your attention right now.
Where do I start? We live in such exciting times with many new technologies that hold great promise for patients. First, I think about the impact that “wearables” will have on monitoring and potentially preventing disease - the possibility to capture real-time patient and consumer data has never been greater and it opens up the healthcare industry to new entrants and new solutions. This growing “closeness” and interface between technology and healthcare, especially as we experience it here on the West coast, puts patients and consumers right in the center of care, where they should be.
Second, I’m intrigued by some crowdsourcing initiatives here in California such as the “Not Impossible Labs” project, that show how innovative do-it-yourself healthcare solutions are dramatically improving lives such as making prosthetics for patients in Sudan. The advancement in technology and social media has unlocked amazing possibilities to collaboratively involve everyone to play an active part in solving patient needs.
Finally, we seem to be only scratching the surface of the possibilities of new technologies such as 3-D printing of prosthetics, organs and customized pills, which in turn could dramatically change our industry.
What are some notable deals you have helped facilitate? Do you have a favorite deal?
During my career at J&J, I’ve had the privilege to drive or negotiate more than 200 partnerships varying from technology and early stage deals, such as the technologies enabling our Long-Acting drugs, or HIV and Ebola vaccine regimens, to many late-stage deals such as JNJ872 for Influenza A with Vertex, our new triple regimen for Hepatitis C with Achillion, and the TAF-based Edurant STR for HIV with Gilead to name a few.
It’s not unusual to have 20-50 people from across a very wide variety of functions including R&D, commercial, legal, finance, etc. involved in any one deal. Next to finding the opportunity and the attributes of the assets or technology itself, the leadership and ability to bring together all of these functions and navigate the partnership in a fast paced environment under high uncertainty is what it takes to bring a deal over the finish line.
As to a favorite deal, it is particularly rewarding when you can see a therapy from a partnership receiving marketing approval and making its way to patients broadly, like Olysio® in HCV (Medivir) and more recently the TAF-based Edurant STR Odefsey® (Gilead) to name a few. You know, when I’m sitting at an airport or travelling home from a partner meeting, I feel motivated by the premise that every partnership we work on holds the promise to make such a difference for patients. It is a privilege to work with people here within J&J equally motivated to make a positive impact.
You’ve held many different roles during your career at Johnson & Johnson, including a scientist and technology licensing specialist. What drew you to your current deal-making role?
Innovation per definition requires one to deal with resistance to change. When I started out as a scientist in R&D, in the department of “Advanced Biotechnologies,” my colleagues and I were there to drive a faster adaptation of the newest technologies within the broader R&D organization.
Bringing innovation in research was the basis that led me to pursue my technology licensing specialist role. I went on to lead scientific and commercial licensing and business development for a variety of franchises and across different regions. In order to broaden my understanding of the healthcare environment I took up a role as Business Unit leader at a time when we were launching more and more products resulting from external partnerships. It gave me the opportunity to spend a lot of time with key opinion leaders and physicians and understand their and their patients’ needs better – being up close to patients has been a life changing experience – it has made me realize we have one of the most fulfilling jobs possible.
What drew me to my current role? Throughout all of my positions at Johnson & Johnson, one common theme for me is a desire to make a significant positive impact for patients, and to drive new ways to make that possible. Diverse career experiences help to build bridges with external partners as well as across different parts of our J&J organization.
What is one thing someone would be surprised to know about you?
Here is something I don’t typically talk about: I was very close to never attending college. In my family, going back generations, higher education was thought to be a waste of time and money for women. At my urging, I was ultimately granted exactly four years of study time to get a degree. I obtained an engineering degree with high honors, and then had to start working immediately after—I eventually earned my Masters and Ph.D. in biotechnology, and MBA while working full-time and this was a very tough period in my life spanning more than eight years.
I could not have done it without the remarkable support from my early mentors at J&J. Because of this experience, I strive to use my current role to be a mentor and advocate for young talent from different parts of the organization and create opportunities for them, such as a six-month rotation program in business development, which will hopefully help them grow. It is something I’m very passionate about.
We have so much talent that could remain untapped unless we “touch them on the shoulder.” I hope my story can be an inspiration for young women or anyone who needs that little extra support to continue to strive to level the playing field in the workplace.
Stefanie Dhanda, Senior Director, Consumer Scientific Innovation Boston Innovation Center#innovation
Stefanie Dhanda recently joined the Johnson & Johnson Innovation Center in Boston as Senior Director, Consumer Scientific Innovation. Hear from Stefanie below about the Consumer sector's efforts to grow and maintain a portfolio of innovative partnerships, collaborations and benefits.
1. What path led you to Johnson & Johnson Innovation?
After spending 20+ years in investment banking, I encountered a deal that catalyzed my interest in making a career shift. I facilitated a deal for a groundbreaking medical foods company that took a personal connection to the Phenylketonuria (PKU) disease, and identified an opportunity to help transform the lives of people living with PKU. After that experience, it was clear to me that I wanted to be at the crossroads of consumer products and healthcare, ideally with early-stage companies looking to ramp up, and in October 2015, I started at Johnson & Johnson Innovation.
2. What are your specific focus areas within Johnson & Johnson consumer health?
I look at all opportunities across the 11 consumer need states, and am also specifically the communication liaison for oral care, compromised skin and therapeutic hair. Johnson & Johnson Innovation is extremely open to all consumer health areas - we want to tap into game-changing innovation, and my role is to ultimately assess the massive pipeline of consumer health opportunities to find ones that fit with Johnson & Johnson Innovation's consumer research priorities.
3. What are some of the particular strengths that Johnson & Johnson Innovation offers entrepreneurs working in the consumer space?
The J&J Family of consumer companies is one of the largest and scientifically driven businesses in the world. Working through JJI, we co-create products and solutions grounded by deep consumer insights and backed by strong research. We seek important new technologies that can be accelerated to consumers through co-development with our internal scientific teams and introduced globally through world-class marketing, manufacturing, and regulatory capabilities.
4. How do you see the consumer health landscape evolving?
One major trend we're seeing is an increased tie between consumer health and technology or medical devices. Our region has a good mix of academic institutions, strong key opinion leaders and researchers, and we're fortunate that Boston alone has MIT, Harvard and 17 other great institutions working on fascinating projects. We're anticipating that the lines between consumer health and technology will continue to blur, and that exciting, personalized consumer products will be the end result.
It's not just lotions or baby wipes anymore, for example, it's a device or a digital health platform like a health and wellness app that users can customize to truly meet their needs.
5. How is the Boston Innovation Center forging partnerships and collaborations with local companies?
At Johnson & Johnson Innovation, we've purposely designed our innovation model to be as open and flexible as possible. We are in three different sectors, and we bring a lot of value to a consumer company with regards to research & development, marketing, strategy and business. Our company model allows us tremendous insights across various global and consumer health areas.
6. How do you spend your time outside of the Innovation Center?
I've been married for 16 years, and have a daughter who is almost 14, a son who is 12, and a rescue mutt from Alabama named Willow. I enjoy cooking, skiing and open water swimming at our vacation home in the Lakes Region of Maine. I have an ongoing dare with a neighbor to take a dip in the lake in Maine for any month where there is open water.
Can the Next Einstein Come from Africa?#nexteinstein
Paul Stoffels, M.D., Chief Scientific Officer and Worldwide Chairman, Pharmaceuticals, Johnson & Johnson
By 2050, two out of every five children on Earth will call Africa home. Any one of them has the potential to become the next Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, or Jonas Salk. Scientific research outputs made by researchers in Africa have doubled since 2003 and the quality of that research is high.
The Next Einstein Forum (NEF) is a global science and technology initiative in Africa designed to speed collaboration, innovation, and solutions, and Johnson & Johnson is a passionate supporter of their work. The NEF Global Gathering took place this week in Dakar, Senegal, with some 700 scientists, ambassadors and heads of state, Nobel Laureates, and biopharmaceutical industry and public sector representatives, in attendance. Together we are working to promote global scientific leadership in Africa, identify and foster scientific talent, and ensure there is robust opportunity for young people and women to contribute to scientific advancement.
My passion to see scientists in Africa recognized as global leaders began early in my career, when I started my medical training in Africa as the HIV crisis was emerging. That experience never left me; my spirit and my heart remain on that continent, and my perceptions of what we should expect from our global research endeavors were irrevocably changed. Africa is changing – development is occurring at a breakneck pace, wealth and urbanization is increasing, and Africans see their lifestyles changing in formerly unimaginable ways. These changes will impact the diseases affecting this continent. Researchers will need to expand their focus from communicable diseases, like malaria and Ebola, to chronic diseases like hypertension and diabetes. New and novel ideas must come from Africa if we are to address the burden of evolving and previously unseen diseases.
Johnson & Johnson Innovation recognizes the invaluable role scientists and innovators from countries in Africa play in addressing today’s most challenging healthcare problems. The geographic, ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic diversity found across this continent will no doubt give rise to innovation and broaden our understanding of the world around us. We also recognize there is a role for the private sector to play in building the STEM infrastructure throughout Africa, paving the way for us to collaboratively solve complex healthcare issues. Our focus has long been on fueling technology and life science discoveries. Our involvement in NEF reinforces our priority to support, drive, and engage talent and innovative research across the globe.
I believe that scientists and researchers in Africa have the potential to solve some of the most urgent healthcare challenges of our time, and that, with the right educational and scientific infrastructure, the next great scientist will come from Africa. Let’s make sure she has the education, resources and platform to turn her revolutionary idea into a reality.
JPM at 10#JPM17
By 1991 the biotechnology industry, as measured by our annual January gatherings in San Francisco, had just hit 10. In just over a decade, a new industry built on the ability to “cut and paste DNA” had erased the need to await the Mendelian generational clock to rewrite the blueprints of life. In just a short 10 years, remarkable investments, talents and ambitions had been mobilized and new medical and agricultural advances were emerging.
But as history never ceases to teach, neither we as individuals nor any industry can escape the turbulence of the world around us. Just months before JP Morgan’s 10th Healthcare Conference gathering, Saddam Hussein announced his intent to annex Kuwait then proceeded to invade his neighbor in August of 1990. By January at the JP Morgan conference, the hallway chatter was filled with not “if” but “when” the world would strike back. We would not have to wait long. Just hours after the January U.N. deadline, a coalition of 34 nations led by the USA, began Operation Desert Storm with massive air and missile attacks on targets in Iraq and in Kuwait. As the attacks began, the world gathered together to watch a televised announcement by President Bush who proclaimed, “as a coalition of peace loving nations, we will not fail.” After seemingly endless televised news coverage, on Day 39 the ground assault begins and then on February 28th, just five days later, Kuwaiti troops raise the Emirate’s flag above Kuwait City. More chapters on Iraq were yet to be written but by February of 1991, Kuwait would be returned to its people. Technology and the will of a unified world had rejected a rogue leader – good (and technology prowess), it seemed, had prevailed.
In 1990 the internet was born via Tim Berners-Lee’s first Internet “browser” and, by 1991, this new software application hit its one millionth download with vigorous discussion of the Persian Gulf war dominating the newly-formed chat groups and “online” newsfeeds.
Biotechnology’s first decade had made some history itself. Since Genentech’s historic offering in 1980, 89 new biotechnology companies had captured the attention of investors and gone public in markets that were buoyed less by revenue-generating biotech products than by prices paid by would-be acquirers. 1991 was to be a record-breaking year with 33 young companies completing IPOs, eclipsing the previous record of 25 in 1986.
But building these new businesses and making biotech-based products was proving to be extremely difficult, expensive and slow. Running these businesses solely off of persnickety equity-based financings was difficult. Partnerships with profitable and well- capitalized pharmaceutical companies were proving to be critical. Even Genentech, the company that had laid the groundwork for the biotech industry and had already used its head-start with recombinant DNA technologies to generate a basket of new products was struggling to fund operations. In 1990 the company’s management team sold a 60 percent stake and an option-to-fully acquire the rest to Roche for $2.1B. The Genentech 1990 transaction was the first of what proved to be many similar types of transactions between leading biotechs and the established pharmaceutical companies of the day. Immunex, Genetics Institute, Systemix, Chiron among many others were integrated into larger organizations during the next few years. And each would illustrate to investors that the large, well-established players in the healthcare industry could provide access to robust profit-built balance sheets and pathways to earlier investor liquidity.
1991, a full 10 years after the discovery of the AIDS virus, the growing epidemic continued as a relentless reminder that all of us are vulnerable. It was in 1991, after a 13-season NBA career with the L.A. Lakers, that included five championships, that Magic Johnson after testing positive for HIV, announced his retirement. Johnson was one of the first sports stars to go public about his HIV-positive status. Since HIV’s discovery and as a result of the advances purely made possible by biotechnology, Magic and others around the world with access to treatment are living longer lives.
Following the 1986 space shuttle Challenger disaster and after nearly three years of mission hiatus, investigation, accusation and engineering review, it was resilience and determination that had prevailed. In 1990, one of the five remaining space shuttles, in this case the Space Shuttle Discovery, roared back into space with the Hubble telescope in its cargo bay to deploy. By 1991, streams of images were opening a new window through which we could peer more deeply into the cosmos than ever before.
While back on earth a new biological “moonshot” was just getting underway as Congress seeded funding to both the NIH and the DOE to begin a 15-year research effort called the “Human Genome Project.” The project would develop technology for analyzing DNA; map and sequence human and other genomes; and study related ethical, legal, and social issues. It was a program thought to exceed the technical complexity of anything ever conceived but one that finished ahead of schedule at a fraction of the anticipated cost. When reflected on today, it is hard to fathom the progress in sequencing and now gene editing that has been made since 1991 and even harder to fathom where both will be in just 10 short years from now.
As we head into the 35th annual JPM Healthcare Conference, perhaps it is also good to reflect on the year we’ve just completed. Biotech stocks finished a tough year with the BioCentury 100 losing 1,474.40 (23%) to 4,834.54 at year-end and far underperforming the broader markets. The NASDAQ Biotechnology Index and the iShares NASDAQ Biotechnology ETF each slipped 22% on the year, while the NYSE Arca Biotechnology Index shed 19%. By comparison, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 13% in 2016, and the NASDAQ Composite rose 8%.
2016 saw only 22 medicines approved by the FDA, which was down dramatically from 45 and 41 in 2015 and 2014, respectively. That said, many of these 2016 approvals do address key areas of unmet medical need including new treatments for advanced ovarian cancer, bladder cancer and spinal muscular atrophy. Nearly half of these advanced quickly as a result of FDA sponsored innovation pathways and many have accompanying diagnostics to enable targeted treatment approaches. In 2017, 115 applications for approval have been accepted for review by the FDA, loading the calendar for an exciting new stream of patient-directed solutions in the year ahead.
When JPM began in 1982, it was an assembly of biotech pioneers determined to do and see more and was metaphorically reflected in the audacity of Lawnchair Larry’s fateful balloon powered flight “to rise above it all” and try new approaches. By 1991, just 10 years later, it reflected a global and powerful industry that reconvened again at the St. Francis. An industry whose products and talents could truly save lives and even help feed the masses. And an industry whose successes had provided the catalyst to sequence not just the blueprints of “who we are” but all life that surrounds us. Yet it was also a time that provided a sharp contrast of what is scientifically possible with the humbling tribal histories from which we have all come and the fragility on which civil society (and technology) rests.
May 2017 seek to couple peace with our progress.