4 Ways Johnson & Johnson Advanced Much-Needed Healthcare Innovations Amid the Pandemic

Originally published on jnj.com by

As the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference takes place this week, the President of Johnson & Johnson Innovation – JJDC, Inc. shares some of the scientific breakthroughs and collaborations his team is championing to help address the unmet needs and well-being of people around the world.

Every January, the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference offers the global healthcare investment community the opportunity to reflect on the year past—and chart a course for the year ahead.

For the first time in its history, this global symposium will take place virtually, inspiring the innovation community to find new ways to meaningfully connect and share ideas, progress and partnership.

But innovation in life sciences itself has not been deterred or slowed in the face of a global pandemic.

Looking back on 2020, I am proud that Johnson & Johnson (Fair360, formerly DiversityInc Top 50 Hall of Fame) met the challenges of the moment with perseverance and passion, while also keeping our focus on the mission of advancing promising science to help improve the health and lives of millions of patients and consumers around the world. In fact, progress was even accelerated as we supported the global innovation community through more than 100 strategic partnerships, collaborations and equity investments across the globe.

At Johnson & Johnson Innovation (JJI), where I head a global team of investment experts based at Johnson & Johnson Innovation Centers around the globe, our mission is to work with this community of innovators to realize the potential of breakthrough ideas. With our partners, we are accelerating the best science and ideas wherever they exist in the world, investing in cutting-edge technologies and a diverse array of creative and innovative entrepreneurs who aim to solve for not only the current public health crisis with COVID-19 but also other significant unmet medical needs that we continue to see across so many areas of human health.

As we kick off our first day at the J.P. Morgan conference, here’s a look at four key ways we helped accelerate innovation last year—and how we plan to further deliver on these investments in 2021 and beyond.

1. Investing in Companies Pivoting in the Midst of the Pandemic

A significant challenge throughout the pandemic has been the need for ventilators to treat the patients most in need. JJI facilitated a lightning-fast collaboration with Prisma Health to make and distribute its innovative VESper Ventilator Expansion Splitter.

The collaboration leveraged Ethicon’s 3D printing infrastructure to manufacture and distribute the VESper device on behalf of Prisma Health at no cost to healthcare providers. Less than 72 hours after Prisma Health received an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the devices, discussions about an arrangement for manufacturing were initiated and within a week, teams had been assembled, quality specifications and manufacturing flows for high volume 3D printing designed, production launched and shipping of the device began.

In 2020, JJI also leveraged its QuickFire Challenge platform to identify and support innovators pivoting and adapting in response to COVID-19. These included challenges on nurse-led innovation around COVID-19 patient care, adapting healthcare for the “new normal” in Seoul, solutions to improve continuity of care for people with drug-resistant tuberculosis (DR-TB) in the wake of healthcare delivery disruptions around the world and an “invisible shield” challenge seeking the next generation of everyday respiratory protection.

2. Advancing Novel Digital Healthcare Solutions

One of the biggest trends we saw accelerate in 2020 is the use of digital technology—including telemedicine, wearable devices and other tools—to help make healthcare delivery more efficient and medicine more personalized and precise.

JJI has been working to identify and support a variety of companies in this space. One example: Koa Health, which is collaborating with the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson to conduct groundbreaking research on the use of digital cognitive behavioral therapy (dCBT) for treatment-resistant major depressive disorder. The goal: use technology to provide easy access to a range of digital mental health solutions to help meet the needs of every individual through the avenues of care most available to them.

Digital technology has also been critical in improving the patient journey through surgical procedures. We see a lot of promise in tools that provide surgeons with real-time information and the ability to make procedures more precise and less invasive.

Another example is the investment by Johnson & Johnson Innovation – JJDC, Inc. (JJDC)the strategic venture capital arm of Johnson & Johnson, in Thirty Madison, a digital health company focused on building affordable, personalized, end-to-end care models for consumers across specialized areas of health, including migraine, hair loss and acid reflux. In 2020, JJDC participated in Thirty Madison’s Series B financing, which will enable the company to further innovate to improve the quality of life of people with such chronic conditions.

Digital technology has also been critical in improving the patient journey through surgical procedures, from diagnosis and pre-operative care through post-op and recovery. We see a lot of promise in tools that provide surgeons with real-time information and the ability to make procedures more precise and less invasive.

That’s why we collaborated last year with Visible Patient, which creates 3-D modeling of medical images that simulate procedures before and during intervention, to help the company expand its customer base and put its technology into the hands of more surgeons to help improve patient care.

3. Leveraging Data Science to Improve Healthcare

We continue to see a huge opportunity to harness data, machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) to help drive decision-making at all levels of healthcare.

In 2020, we announced an investment in Datavant Holdings, which is working to help healthcare organizations unite data across institutions to enhance medical research and patient care.

Another JJI partner, Aetion Inc., analyzes electronic medical records, insurance claims, patient registries and lab results to generate decision-grade, real-world, evidence-based data for regulatory, policy, pricing and other critical healthcare-related decisions. Last year, we invested in the company to support its efforts to align healthcare stakeholders to ultimately better assess the safety, effectiveness and value of medications.

4. Supporting Big Thinkers Who Have the Potential to Provide Tomorrow’s Big Innovations

While so much of 2020 required the global community to respond to the dire moment at hand, we take a long-term view at JJI and know that investment in the people behind the innovations is critical to ensuring that science continues to progress.

That’s why we supported the resident companies in our Johnson & Johnson Innovation – JLABS (JLABS) community of healthcare startups who were facing pandemic-related hardship with a financial relief program. This way, they could continue to work, either by refocusing their efforts to address the COVID-19 crisis or driving other vital health solutions for people in financial distress.

In August, we announced the selection of seven initial companies from across the JLABS portfolio for their promising work to fill gaps in the current set of available COVID-19 diagnostic, therapeutic, vaccine and other potential solutions.

JLABS is also collaborating with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), a component of the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, to form Blue Knight, a partnership that aims to stimulate the innovation and incubation of technologies that improve health security and response through companies focused on public health threats and emerging infectious diseases.

In August, we announced the selection of seven initial companies from across the JLABS portfolio for their promising work to fill gaps in the current set of available COVID-19 diagnostic, therapeutic, vaccine and other potential solutions.

They include 7 Hills Pharma, creator of a clinical-stage, first-in-concept treatment aimed at stimulating the body’s immune response against tumor and infectious disease antigens, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. There’s also Autonomous Therapeutics, Inc., which is developing the first pan-coronavirus prophylactics, with the aim of preventing infections by a coronavirus—from COVID-19 to the next threat.

This first cohort of Blue Knight companies will receive combined support of up to $500,000 and mentorship from BARDA and the Johnson & Johnson family of companies. Since the initial announcement, we have selected and onboarded two new Blue Knight companies to join JLABS and will continue to review new companies on an ongoing basis.

As we look ahead to our work in 2021, our goal of investing in innovation and in our partners will continue to move forward. We will continue to support the remarkable researchers and scientists and entrepreneurs fervently pursuing new discoveries that have the potential to improve the health and lives of patients around the world.

We will continue, because patients are waiting, science never sleeps, innovation doesn’t stop—and neither do we.