Feature: Collaboration innovation: Can J&J’s bold approach pave the way for the industry? 

Patrick Verheyen heads up the Johnson & Johnson Innovation Centre in London and is on a mission to forge collaborations that will lead to the translation of great science. Focussing on science led fundamental improvements, the global innovation centres have already completed over 60 deals, despite only being in existence for little over a year.

Patrick talks to us about the key success factors necessary to translate science and deliver on J&J Innovation’s objectives, the scale of the challenges and opportunities he faces, what he feels are the ingredients to successful collaborations and what he sees is the future of pharma in early stage science.

B&M: What are the core objectives for the London Innovation Centre?

Patrick Verheyen: One of the core objectives of our innovation centre is to create a window on the science throughout Europe in areas of interest to J&J, ranging from pharmaceuticals, devices, diagnostics, and consumer products. So that’s kind of task number one.

A second core objective is in establishing collaborations with a view to getting novel transformative products to patients and consumers. We collaborate with partners in academia, clinical centres, venture capital, or in biotech companies.

A third objective is simply to be active and engaged partners in the life science community to encourage and support a diverse environment for the translation of great science.

To sum it up, it’s knowing what is out there, knowing where the science is leading us, entering into partnerships to really advance that science and working together with the community to lift everything to a higher level in terms of efficiency, and product differentiation. And I think we can do that by putting the right experts together and intensifying our networks across the industry.

B&M: What do you think that J&J gains from the innovation centres exactly?

Patrick Verheyen: We are one of the largest healthcare companies in the world, and for us it’s all about delivering value to patients and customers in our various sectors - consumer, pharma, devices, diagnostics.

We’re looking at really transformative products that could make a significant difference in people’s lives around the world. Of course, we have tremendous science internally, but that represents just a fraction of the global scientific innovation. We think by working together with the global healthcare community we can do a better job identifying new and valuable products for patients and consumers.

So I think that’s really what we’re here to do: drive value through products that promote longer and healthier lives.

B&M: What do you think are the key success factors that are necessary to achieve your core objectives?

Patrick Verheyen: One KSF is surely about having the deep expertise needed to identify the opportunities. Experts are those people who have a very deep understanding of the basic biology, the fundamental problem of the disease, and connect that with the patient needs. If you have those people close, so that they can interact with academia, clinical centres, through the VC’s, I think that’s step number 1.

A second KSF are networks. Networks are extremely important. It is by working with other people in the industry, and outside the industry that you really refine your thinking and you get to a better result. If you can couple deep expertise over a really vast network I think we can make better decisions, be more efficient with capital and invest our capital on those ideas and concepts that will lead to the most transformative products, not just 3 years from now but in 10-15 years from now.

The third KSF I would say is about people. It’s about conviction and the passion people have to really be successful in this space. I think that’s critical. You need to have expertise. You need to have good networks. But you also need to have people with passion. You need to have people who have a long term vision and remain focussed on the science and remain focussed on the patient and can deliver.

B&M: And what do you feel is the biggest obstacle to your success? What is your biggest challenge?

Patrick Verheyen: For me it’s about how do you spot ideas, products, and get conviction around those that will be transformative, or could be transformative, 10-15 years from now? How do we know this pathway is going to be a valid pathway, this type of antibody, this type of molecule or this type of small vaccine is going to be the best way to tackle this fundamental product rather than another one? That takes expertise. That takes being connected with the best in the world. And it takes the right expertise coupled with conviction.

B&M: Aside from the expertise, the networks, and the necessary conviction, are there any other factors that can help address the challenge of finding and commercialising truly transformative products?

Patrick Verheyen: There are factors that can complement them. Ensuring proximity of stakeholders is important. I also think deal structure is very important, in other words how you collaborate. It’s about ensuring you set up collaborations where the expertise is there, the network is there, and the people remain incentivised.

B&M: I’m guessing if you get all of the pieces of the puzzle right that translates into an enormous opportunity for J&J. What do you actually think is the biggest opportunity J&J has? And how do you think you can take advantage of it?

Patrick Verheyen: There are many opportunities. I think in the last 18 months with the innovation centres we have made great progress in integrating with the regional scientific landscapes and entering into new and exciting collaborations, but I think we are just scratching the surface. I think there is still a lot of opportunity across Europe in academic centres, in clinical centres, and emerging biotech companies. . And that means tremendous opportunity to get conviction around some great ideas and help those teams to bring them to the clinic and hopefully to patients.. I also think by working together and coming up with better plans, coming up with better visions, I think the industry as a whole can do a better job in attracting capital to bring those transformative products to market.

B&M: And have you seen evidence the innovation centre initiative is working? Can you point to some success stories?

Patrick Verheyen: I think because all our collaborations are all early stage and we’ve only been at this for a little over a year, we can’t really say this product is now available to patients and it wouldn’t have been. Check back, watch this space. What we can say is we’ve entered into collaborations with companies and organisations that we might not have met if we weren’t where the innovators are in London, Boston, California or Asia Pacific.

I can also say we have entered into more than 60 deals globally. Some of them are early-stage academic deals, some of them are already in early clinical stages of development, but they’re all science led. They are all focussed on not incremental improvement but fundamental improvements. 

B&M: So you would say these things are successful because they’re science led, they’re fundamental improvements rather than incremental, the deal structure is correct in each of them, and the collaboration is optimised?

Patrick Verheyen: Yes. Another feature is that there are for each partnership very strong internal and external champions - people with true passion and belief it’s going to happen.

Another perhaps unique aspect of our model is that the people who champion a transaction in the Innovation Centre, stick with that transaction, are accountable for that transaction until clinical proof of concept. It’s not that we spot something, we find it interesting, we put a deal together, and then say ok, now you take it over There’s accountability.

B&M: We’ve talked a lot about collaboration in the interview, perhaps you could just summarise for me what you think are the key elements of a great collaboration, a great partnership?

Patrick Verheyen: A great collaboration is collaboration where the parties around the table are incentivised to really put their best expertise in. And a good collaboration allows the people throughout the partnership to continue to work with passion and conviction on the idea. So that means that the relationship needs to be transparent in goals and objectives and that requires a great deal of trust, otherwise people are going to lose their engagement, and engagement is critical.

B&M: And do you see this model of innovation centres, do you see that as the future for pharma in the early stage?

Patrick Verheyen: Well we’re learning every day and it’s going to continue to evolve. I think what is going to be the constant for us is that it’s going to be driven by the patient need and led by the science . But I think we will go to a higher level of collaboration, and partnerships are going to get more complex. The industry is already very complex, there are governments, academics, biotechs, venture capital and plenty of stakeholders, so the way on how we are going to collaborate to really bring the right expertise together is going to get more complex. So I think we will evolve and probably get more comfortable in more broader, more diverse, more complex interactions between the various industry players or participants.

B&M: And within that complexity and evolution, what do you think is the biggest opportunity that will emerge from partnerships and collaborations in the future?

Patrick Verheyen: There is a shift already, and you see it happening, to earlier stage innovation. I think more and more the interest for earlier stage opportunities and the value it can bring to organisations and to patients is increasing. So I think there is great opportunity for innovators and entrepreneurs globally but also here in the UK to participate and help that translation of early science into products. And that is very exciting.

Our job is to create the opportunity for people who have innovative ideas and who are willing to take the risk to create new start-ups succeed in getting that idea to patients. And it’s our task, our obligation, but also our privilege to work with those entrepreneurs and biotech companies to make them successful. That’s really what drive me, is how can we help as an industry to help those people who really believe in an idea to say ok, I see this great science in Cambridge or in Cardiff or in the Netherlands and this is the plan, let’s put a team together, let’s bring capital together. It really puts a smile on my face if I can make those people successful.

B&M: So if what’s driving you is to help these entrepreneurs and these start-ups to commercialise their great science, what is the converse of that, what is worrying you? What is keeping you awake at night?

Patrick Verheyen: Time. I don’t see it enough. I see a tremendous opportunity to collaborate across all industry participants, but time is limited, patients need new products, there are still very significant needs and problems that haven’t been tackled yet.

The science is there, there’s a lot of people with passion, we need to build on the momentum and I kind of know that time is ticking. Let’s move. I see a lot of opportunity, and I can get very impatient. I would like to do more and I think we can do more in a collaborative way and that’s why I’m excited about what we are doing through the Innovation Centres.

B&M: If you look at the wider healthcare industry, is there anything in particular that really concerns you at the moment?

Patrick Verheyen: I think there is tremendous opportunity for the industry. And I think there is great momentum. I think we can do things even faster that would be great, if we could accelerate it and intensify our collaborations. I think that’s the opportunity, and there is a lot of that happening already, and I would like to build on the momentum. I would say for the early stage that’s the biggest opportunity we have, and also the biggest challenge. How do you create that openness? How do you create that high density of interaction?

B&M: One final question. If you had any sort of advice that you would like to give early stage biotech’s looking to approach J&J, what sort of advice would you give them?

Patrick Verheyen: Come to us, talk, and reach out. We are looking to partner with all types of opportunities, early, mid-stage, late-stage, where people have the same scientific interest.

Another piece of advice: be prepared to have an open dialogue. We are going to be open, we are going to be as collaborative as possible and we will try to really help our partners to be successful. We also work with a lot of people who are not our partners and still try to give them our time. So be prepared and willing to open into an open dialogue, and I think if you are willing to have a dialogue I think good things will come from that.

This interview was taken from our August edition of Drugs & Dealers magazine. To read more great articles, like the above, from The Crick Institute, Imperial Innovations, Edinburgh BioQuarter, UCL Business, Isis Innovation, Cancer Research Technology, The Wellcome Trust, Coller IP, BBSRC, Marks & Clerk, GSK, Apposite Capital and Silicon Valley Bank Download it for free and become a Biotech and Money subscriber.

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