Johnson & Johnson announced the grand opening of a biotech incubator in South San Francisco on Tuesday and unveiled the first 10 businesses that will reside there. The 30,000-square-foot facility can house up to 50 startups at a time, and its members will focus on developing health care solutions in the highly competitive industries of pharmaceuticals, medical devices and digital health.
The inaugural members of the incubator, called a JLab, will include startups focused on chronic pain, rare diseases and skin cancer. Employees of a firm called Goleini Inc. who are developing a gene therapy for glaucoma will work there along with the team from Corexyme, which is trying to find an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.
"You've got young scientists with first-time startups, but we also decided to have some seriously experienced serial founders and heavyweights come in, so that we have this great mix of dynamic new talent and experienced wisdom," Melinda Richter, head of the JLabs program for Johnson & Johnson, told FierceBiotech. "And that's really what the community is about."
One member company called Applied Molecular Transport has already announced a partnership with Janssen Biotech Inc., a division of Johnson & Johnson, for a treatment of inflammatory bowel disease. Another, called EpiBiome Inc., earned its place in the incubator by winning a competition hosted earlier this year. It is attempting to treat diseases in livestock by tapping the microbiome, the term for the many microorganisms that reside within humans and other large animals.
California is already home to 2,490 biomedicine companies, more than any other state. Its lawmakers have offered startup-friendly policies -- including a sales-tax exemption for companies to use when purchasing equipment related to research and development. Even during the recession, which hit California particularly hard, this homegrown industry continued to grow at a faster clip than in any state except North Carolina, according to a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers. "The addition of JLabs to the Bay Area is a welcome and needed resource that will help advance innovative products and further support the formation of additional life science companies," Richard Garbarino, mayor of South San Francisco, said in a statement.
Johnson & Johnson runs similar incubators in San Francisco, San Diego and Boston and plans to open a fifth in Houston next year. Members of each incubator rent space and gain access to laboratory equipment, business services, educational programs and offices as part of a “no strings attached” arrangement, according to the company’s website. However, it's clear that Johnson & Johnson sees the 70 companies housed in its JLabs throughout the country as a loosely held extension of the company's own innovation arm. Over the years, Johnson & Johnson has struck 20 deals with member companies for products or medicines created at its incubators and is currently in negotiations for 20 more, as reported by San Francisco Business Times.