GHLS Blog Series: Johnson and Johnson Innovation

December 02, 2022

The Global Health Landscape Symposium is just a few days away! This year’s convening will focus on generating progress and seizing on the potential of global health that has been so clearly illustrated throughout the COVID-19 crisis. We wanted to get a jump start on the conversation by talking to the organizations that will be joining us on December 7 and 8. Today, we are speaking to Johnson & Johnson Innovation (JLABS).

The last in-person Global Health Landscape Symposium took place in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic. What are the biggest challenges you and your organization have encountered in the three years since then?

In April 2019, Johnson & Johnson Innovation – JLABS (JLABS) announced a new partnership with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), part of the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, to support and accelerate early-stage companies developing potential next-gen solutions to respond to global health security threats, including pandemic preparedness and emerging infectious diseases. The BLUE KNIGHT™ collaboration was created with an understanding that the world would face new, unknown, and emerging health threats and that innovations from early-stage companies can be a critical piece of the solution. As we were ramping up for a formal launch, the type of health threat we were preparing for emerged with the COVID-19 pandemic.

By March 2020, Blue Knight was in the early stages of development, and we were challenged to pivot our efforts and quickly provide available resources to early-stage companies working on potential products and tools in the fight against COVID-19. We had fee assistance to support companies with access to JLABS, dedicated experts around the world, and understood the urgency and significance of the moment. Our task became to help accelerate innovation in a way that could make a difference to people on the frontlines, and communities across the globe. Due to the pandemic, the innovation ecosystem was rife with uncertainties and shifting priorities, and Blue Knight had the potential to bring stability to early-stage companies. Targeting companies with promising work to fill gaps in the available COVID-19 diagnostic, therapeutic, vaccine, and other technology potential solutions, particularly those with potential applications to future health security threats, Blue Knight selected its initial seven innovators in August of 2020.

Emerging from the pandemic, Blue Knight continues to seek broad solutions with multiuse potential (indications as medical countermeasures for specific threat areas and for commercial use) and technologies with the potential to accelerate preparedness and the number of Blue Knight companies continues to grow. Our experiences during the pandemic reaffirmed our dedication to anticipating the next potential health security threats, activating the global innovation community, and amplifying scientific and technological advancements. We know the importance of innovation in helping to create a more prepared, secure, and healthier world.

What are the most positive, encouraging developments that have emerged from this time period?

Driven by the urgency of the pandemic, our initial seven companies were focused on potential solutions that could be applied to COVID-19. Since then, our portfolio has grown to include more than 26 companies working on a broad range of potential next-gen solutions. These companies exemplify the breadth of ideas we aim to support, including wearable detection devices, platform technologies, screening solutions, and pathway approaches. Since 2020, our Blue Knight companies have been on a growth trajectory, advancing their science toward commercialization and collectively raising more than $160 million in secured and contingent funding and strategic collaborations. Examples include:

  • GRIP Molecular Technologies is working on clinical validation for their electronic biosensor for at-home medical diagnostics as part of funding received from BARDA’s DRIVe Accelerator Network
  • ENA Respiratory is in phase IIa clinical trials for its broad-spectrum antiviral innate immunomodulator for pre-and post-exposure prophylaxis of respiratory viral infections in populations at-risk of complications, supported through a partnership with the COPD Foundation
    • Esperovax recently announced an agreement to co-develop with Life Magnetics an innovative RNA therapeutic delivery system for colorectal cancer patients that can be stored at room temperature

The title of this year’s Symposium is “Meeting the Moment.” How do you think the global health community can best meet this unique moment in time?

Despite the challenges of COVID-19, the pandemic correlated with unprecedented global collaboration and rapid deployment of innovation. Now is the time to keep that momentum going. This includes keeping the people who are at the other end of healthcare innovations and solutions top of mind. They are the reason we innovate, why our companies continue working to advance their science, and why our partners continue to invest in potential solutions.

COVID-19 exposed many substantial, underlying health inequities. BLUE KNIGHT™ believes innovators must understand the unique needs of different populations and develop tailored approaches to address these population-specific gaps. Blue Knight is particularly interested in technologies aiming to support the needs of diverse populations, including at-risk, immunocompromised, geriatric, pediatric populations, and essential workers.

The global health community has the opportunity to help create a seismic yet sustainable shift to address health disparities, and Johnson & Johnson Innovation wants to help make systemic, sustainable changes in how the industry works. We believe we can do this by supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion in the early stages of a company’s life – when they are creating their identity, their research focus and approach, their culture and their potential solutions. Blue Knight continues to be committed to cultivating a diverse and inclusive workforce and helping solve healthcare challenges with the aim to help create equitable and inclusive healthcare systems. As of Oct. 2022, 36% of Blue Knight companies are women-led and 36% are minority-led, according to self-reported data and we hope to continue to support an increasingly diverse set of companies. 

This year is Global Health Council’s 50th anniversary. In your view, what has been the organization’s impact over the years? What would you like to see it do/achieve in the coming years?

The Global Health Council can continue to be vital in the push to maintain momentum for global health security, particularly through the identification of gaps and amplification of innovation. While we work as a global community with the aim to get critical health solutions to the people who need them most, we must elevate innovation and ensure potential partners are interested in the technology of today as well as the solutions of tomorrow. The Council is in a unique position to bring its half-century of work and partnerships to these efforts by supporting connections with early-stage companies to develop better, more equitable solutions, and by serving as a driving force in the elevation of those concepts.

The Council is also uniquely positioned to infuse its global efforts with perspectives on the role innovation plays to mitigate health inequities and build solutions that allow all people the opportunity to attain their full health potential. Emerging health threats don’t recognize borders or populations – neither can our preparedness solutions. At Johnson & Johnson Innovation, we believe one of the ways we can help increase health equity is by providing tools so DEI concepts can be integrated into the culture of early-stage companies. This helps ensure as they mature and bring potential solutions to market, these concepts are woven into the fabric of how their products and teams develop to deliver equitable, life-enhancing, and life-saving technologies to our global populations.

Is there anything else you’d like us to know?

Innovation is at the core of health advancements – we can’t get to the next level of solutions without supporting and accelerating innovation. The Global Health Council has a role to play in bringing a global, multi-stakeholder perspective to this and elevating the need to support early-stage companies pursuing next-gen solutions. At BLUE KNIGHT™, we believe the path to better prepared, protected, and healthy individuals, families, and communities could rely on unlocking the collective power of the global community.

Be sure to attend Johnson & Johnson Innovation’s Symposium panel, “The Potential of Public-Private Partnerships to Accelerate Early-Stage Solutions for Global Health Security,” on Wednesday, December 7 at 3:30 pm ET.