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In Sync at Johnson & Johnson Innovation, Asia Pacific: A Conversation with Dan Wang and Sharon Chan

In Sync at Johnson & Johnson Innovation, Asia Pacific: A Conversation with Dan Wang and Sharon Chan    Next year, the Johnson & Johnson Innovation Asia Pacific Innovation Center will celebrate its five-year anniversary in Shanghai. The number of partnerships, collaborations and deals that have occurred since the Center’s opening is a testament to its success. Now Johnson & Johnson Innovation is poised for its next big milestone in Asia Pacific, opening the very first JLABS in the region—JLABS @ Shanghai. Opening JLABS @ Shanghai reinforces the explosion of growth in the region and the increasingly important role it plays as a source of cutting-edge innovative science and healthcare. Working together, the Innovation Center and JLABS @ Shanghai will nurture an ecosystem of entrepreneurial scientists progressing their transformative science into solutions that can spark the next great idea to change the trajectory of human health. To help drive that vision, Dan Wang, MD, MBA, MPH, joined the Asia Pacific Innovation Center in February 2018. As Head of Johnson & Johnson Innovation, Asia Pacific, she is responsible for managing a portfolio of co-investments of new products spanning the pharmaceutical, medical device and consumer sectors of Johnson & Johnson, and expanding the external networks within the region’s innovation ecosystem. Dan has over 20 years of experience in the life sciences sector. Prior to joining Johnson & Johnson Innovation, she worked in the management team with Becton Dickinson, e-Capital Corporation, and Express Scripts, among others.   In July 2018 Sharon Chan, DPhil, MBA, MPH, joined our global JLABS team to lead JLABS @ Shanghai. Sharon joined from Aeras in Beijing, where she launched and led that office for the Bill & Melinda Gates with a focus on tuberculosis. Prior to Aeras, Sharon served on the leadership team at Baxter International in Shanghai. Sharon also has first-hand experience with startups; she worked at a London-based Japanese biotech startup, Sosei. At Sosei, she was responsible for international business development, including M&A, licensing, an IPO and financing. This entrepreneurship experience gave her unique insights into the opportunities and challenges startups face every day.   With significant scientific and leadership experience between them, Dan and Sharon are already making their mark in the Company. Today, they share their perspective on the innovation journey, the synergies of their roles, and diversity, among other things.         You both arrived at Johnson & Johnson within a few months of each other; has this simultaneous arrival impacted your roles in any way?  Dan: The Asia Pacific Innovation Center and JLABS are integral to one another and require a synergistic approach in order to find, attract, and nurture the best new science and help bring it to market.  Sharon: Because we both came on board during the same timeframe, we started our Innovation journey together, and were able to co-create strategies right from the start. This has been enormously helpful, and I believe we have fed into each other’s success, as we both focus on building a strong life science ecosystem in Asia Pacific.   Can you describe the synergies between your roles and how they complement each other? Sharon: JLABS opens doors for startups by providing residents with “no strings attached” incubator space, global networks, and insights into scientific development and commercialization that help turn scientific discoveries into breakthrough healthcare products. JLABS @ Shanghai can accommodate over 50 start-ups, and Johnson & Johnson Innovation plays a broader role supporting these companies and other innovators across the region. Dan: That’s right. Our Innovation Center team serves as a one-stop shop for early-stage innovators across the ecosystem, including startups, academics, institutes, and others, providing them with access to the broader Johnson & Johnson Innovation network, which includes R&D and therapeutic area expertise, deal-making teams and a venture capital arm. The synergy lies in how our teams work together to identify and nurture innovation across the ecosystem. Many Innovation Center members also serve as JPALS to mentor up and coming companies on development and commercialization.   What is the one factor that you consider pivotal to encouraging innovation? Sharon: For me, having the right people is everything. We believe that a great idea can come from anywhere, but it all starts with talented people, or as we call them at JLABS, a Rockstar team. Having the right talent plays a pivotal role in building a vibrant, innovative research environment, and we’re seeing a lot of exciting talent emerge across Asia Pacific. But they need help to succeed, and mentoring and access to a global community of experts is key to their success. Dan:  For me it’s nurturing and accelerating the innovators. It’s great to have a wonderful idea, but if it never reaches the people and patients who need it, it has very little value. That’s why at the Asia Pacific Innovation Center, we focus on helping innovators succeed by providing them with the expertise and resources they need to catalyze and accelerate innovation – transforming great ideas into commercially viable solutions.        There’s been a big focus on female leadership in the media at the moment; how do you feel Johnson & Johnson supports diversity? Dan: We are fortunate here at Johnson & Johnson in China to have so many women in key leadership positions. For example, in Johnson & Johnson’s China Research & Development business, 68 percent of our total employees are female. Additionally, we have been recognized globally as a diverse and inclusive organization by many external rankings; in May, Johnson & Johnson was announced the top company in America for diversity in DiversityInc magazine and the #1 ranking in the Japanese magazine Nikkei Woman for 100 Best Companies Where Women Play an Active Part. Sharon: More than a third of our global corporate executive base is female, and in the US, over 40% of management positions are held by women. At JLABS, 23% of the startups in the program are led by women and 18% are led by an ethnic minority – numbers that are significantly above industry standards. We also continue to invest in initiatives like our WiSTEM2D Scholars Program, which provides funding and mentorship for women in what we call “STEM2D” concentration areas: science, technology, engineering, math, manufacturing and design. Building a diverse STEM2D community is one approach Johnson & Johnson is taking as part of a broader effort to accelerate the development of women leaders and support women at all stages of their lives to improve global health and well-being and to drive sustainable economic growth.   What can we expect from Johnson & Johnson Innovation in 2019? Sharon: We already have an impressive group of startups ready to join the new JLABS facility, and we look forward to showcasing these companies and their innovative science in 2019, as well as working with Dan and her team to broaden their access to Johnson & Johnson resources. We are also working closely with Bo Liu, our principal China venture lead at JJDC, the strategic venture capital arm of Johnson & Johnson, as we pursue opportunities to solve critical healthcare needs. Stay tuned for information on our exciting grand opening plans!  Dan: Central to what we do at Johnson & Johnson Innovation is our ability to identify and attract new and exciting science that transforms patients’ lives and moves us closer to our vision of realizing a world without disease. For 2019 and in our fifth year at the Asia Pacific Innovation Center, I look forward to enabling the region’s strong capabilities and emerging science technologies on a much deeper level and help Asian innovators realize their potential for translational health care. 

Harnessing the Best Healthcare Innovations

Throughout the Boston area, novel healthcare ideas flow as reliably as the Charles River — and indisputably, at a faster pace. But as Michal Preminger knows well, an idea will remain an idea unless the right team comes together to make it real.  As Executive Director of Harvard Medical School’s Office of Technology Development, Dr. Preminger drove partnering and commercialization for countless and diverse breakthrough innovations that emerged from Harvard laboratories. Now, as the new head of Johnson & Johnson Innovation’s Boston site since joining in August, she is again driving innovation by forging the essential connections that turn early-stage science into products that change lives.  Under her leadership, the team at Johnson & Johnson Innovation, Boston builds relationships across the eastern half of the U.S. with regional entrepreneurs, universities and institutes developing early-to mid- stage innovations across pharmaceutical, medical device and consumer health sectors. Here, she shares why she made the jump to Johnson & Johnson Innovation and how she expects healthcare to transform over the next several years.     What excites you most about your new job as head of Johnson & Johnson’s Boston Innovation Center?  Having been intimately connected with Boston’s innovation scene for so long, I was excited to move to an environment in which I’d be able to advance great healthcare ideas further than I’ve ever been able to so far — all the way to the marketplace. In thinking about who would be the right partner for me, Johnson & Johnson stood out for its diverse, multi-sectorial development capabilities and breadth of resources and its special relationship with consumers and patients, stemming from its Credo. I believe that we are on the verge of an enormous revolution in healthcare. Johnson & Johnson not only understands this, but is acting on it. Here in Boston’s innovation circles, Johnson & Johnson’s infrastructure, experience and brand are well known and respected. With all that is happening in healthcare today, I believe this role will present many amazing opportunities to drive forward important new solutions serving consumers and patients.  With time, I expect to see a convergence of these two categories as we manage to offer even more prevention and early intervention, rather than only treating disease.       How does your recent work at Harvard and prior work with biotech companies benefit what you’re looking to accomplish now at the Boston Innovation Center? Most of all, it informs my perspective in a way that helps us connect with entrepreneurs. I have lived in the innovator domain for a long time and carry their state of mind — dreams, anxieties and all. Whether through my work in academia, at small startups, or with companies moving into unfamiliar markets, I fully relate to the concerns and excitement entrepreneurs feel when they see their baby move into new hands. For a company like Johnson & Johnson that interacts heavily with innovators, it’s critical to have an intuitive understanding of that state of mind. One of my goals here is to ensure that the Boston Innovation Center continues to be a place where innovators feel well understood and extremely comfortable.     You also bring a unique perspective from growing up in Israel. How has that affected who you are today as a business leader?  I was born in Israel when the country was only 16 years old. Everyone was building something new. Like most around me, my family came to Israel from Europe as refugees who owned nothing, and - with nothing to lose — it was all about the future, with great hopes and grand dreams. Growing up in that environment was inspiring and certainly shaped my mindset for innovation and appetite for risk. But, being part of the nascent biotech industry in Israel, I also learned about the pitfalls that companies encounter as they expand; Israel is fantastic in starting innovation, but growing big companies is a major challenge. Today, being part of Johnson & Johnson, I am bringing that spirit of innovation and creativity, as well as deep respect for what a big company can contribute in moving early innovations to market.     You know the healthcare startup scene better than most, especially in Boston. What are the biggest mistakes you see entrepreneurs make when seeking financing or partnerships?  Many founders and startups focus on financial payoff and worry about dilution; I’ve seen companies try to artificially create urgency, oversell what they have or play hard-to-get. But this undercuts the opportunity to have a genuine and transparent discussion with potential partners — transparency that can translate into a better plan with appropriate resourcing that will create more value for everyone in the long run. For that reason, I always encourage entrepreneurs to be open about strengths andweaknesses. I feel that, at J&J, we have the resources, expertise and, most importantly, desire, to work with startups to draw a path to success and help with execution. Those of us here, in the Boston ecosystem, appreciate the many opportunities for education, networking and training, that are offered by J&J and JLABS without any strings attached, in the spirit of this approach and the J&J Credo.    As you look to the future of innovation, what are the big trends you expect will significantly impact healthcare in the next five years? The big three I am very hopeful about are data-driven monitoring, early detection and early intervention. We will see progress on these fronts emerge from FDA-regulated innovations as well as from the consumer side, as individuals continue to take greater ownership of their health. What started with Fitbits is evolving into sophisticated, data-driven approaches and AI-based analytics that can identify potential health risks early and deploy better solutions to keep people healthy. Johnson & Johnson is in an ideal position to harness this trend through its combination of pharma, medical device and consumer health businesses.  On the therapy side, new modalities such as gene editing and CAR-T are beginning to mature, giving way to medicines we couldn’t have even predicted five years ago. The shift from the blockbuster model to smaller well-defined patient populations has allowed us to take risks and gain experience with new approaches that can only be perfected by getting to the market. Ultimately, this will translate into being able to fix almost anything in the body. It’s completely mind-blowing. At the same time, new drug-development tools such as organs-on-a-chip are enabling biological research on a whole new level, which will lead to new ways to treat disease.     You are driven by a passion for ending disease. Tell us about this.  Indeed, I’m passionate about prevention, early detection and intervention. The vision of a world without disease is compelling to me on a very personal level. Many years ago, my father passed away from a cancer that later became preventable. The drug that could save him at the time was then in clinical trials and by the time it was accessible to him, he was too weak to take it. Five years after he passed, my sister-in-law contracted the same cancer. Her son was just 6 years old at the time. I consulted with colleagues at Harvard, who informed me it was a bad situation. But the same drug that my father failed to benefit from worked for her. Five years later, her cancer came back and she got another drug that worked. Today, she runs half marathons and my nephew is 14. Stories like this are why we’re here. I feel extremely privileged to contribute to the efforts to find cures or treat people with disease so they can raise their children and enjoy life for as long as possible.   

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  • Johnson & Johnson Innovation Champions Leading Edge Science with 15 New Collaborations with Potential to Impact Patients’ Lives

    New Brunswick, NJ
    January 5, 2018

    Johnson & Johnson Innovation LLC today announced more than a dozen new collaborations to drive the development of novel solutions to impact healthcare. These collaborations bring the total number of strategic transactions executed by Johnson & Johnson Innovation to more than 350 since its establishment in 2012.

    This latest series of deals focuses on leveraging advances in science and technology to address areas of high unmet medical need, including the use of artificial intelligence to detect signs of Alzheimer’s disease years before it becomes apparent; the identification of throat cancers with a simple saliva test; and harnessing the microbiome to treat sleep disorders.

  • Johnson & Johnson Announces Completion of Acquisition of Actelion

    New Brunswick, NJ
    June 16, 2017

    Transaction Expands Janssen Portfolio with Leading Differentiated In-Market Medicines and Promising Late-Stage Therapies.

  • Johnson & Johnson Innovation Launches Champions of Science Storytelling Challenge – Latin America & Caribbean Edition

    Panama City, Panama
    October 22, 2018

    Johnson & Johnson Innovation has launched the Champions of Science Storytelling Challenge – Latin America & Caribbean Edition to spotlight the achievements and personal journeys of scientists doing innovative work in the region. The Challenge was announced during the CILAC 2018 Open Science Forum for Latin America and the Caribbean, and is the latest in the company’s Champions of Science Storytelling Challenge series.  

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