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Fireside Chat with Ken Drazan, MD, Head of Johnson & Johnson Innovation

October 7, 2014
Day one of the BIO Investor Forum featured a Fireside Chat with Ken Drazan, MD, who serves as the head of Johnson & Johnson Innovation in California. The conversation was moderated by Deepa R. Pakianathan, PhD, a general partner for Delphi Ventures who leads the firm’s biotechnology investment activities.

Ken Drazan has a unique viewpoint which results from having experience with both the biopharma start-up world as well as in the investment community. This background enabled him to offer attendees insight into what investors and start-up CEOs need to know about one another’s objectives in order to collaborate effectively.

Ken discussed the Johnson & Johnson Innovation Center business model, which differs from other big pharma companies in that it allows them to gain direct access to key tech hubs by having a physical presence in the community. “We needed to get small to get big,” Ken explained. They have four incubators with smaller offices across Europe, Asia, and the United States, as well as a 40 year history in investing in companies. One of the strengths of Johnson & Johnson Innovation’s approach is that they tailor their capabilities to each company, and offer everything from laboratory space, business model development, and product design guidance, as well as research grants and flexible partnerships with biopharma startups.

When asked by an audience member how small companies can best interact with Johnson & Johnson Innovation and other potential collaborators to ensure that they form a constructive partnership, Ken advised that each side needs to be explicit about what their goals are. “It is at the intersection of each other’s goals that a deal is made”, he explained. Ken added that companies should have a clear understanding of their short and long term objectives, and be transparent about their limitations.

Speaking on the consumer product side, Ken explained that he sees a trend in consumers looking for over-the-counter product solutions rather than doctor-prescribed medicines to preserve their health and mitigate diseases. In response to this trend, Johnson & Johnson Innovation is looking to enhance their offerings of medically-driven consumer products.

Deepa posed a question to the audience: “What would you like to see out of the Johnson & Johnson Innovation Centers that would help you?” One person responded, “A roadmap of how to get there!” Ken explained, “Our door is open for entrepreneurs, academic centers, and companies. We aim to work with outstanding talent and consider a wide variety of partnership types. We sometimes need to see people repeatedly because we may not get it the first time." He added that as companies continue to grow, he encourages them to check back and reapply. He gave an example of a company which was initially denied application to the innovation center, but which was later accepted when they published a breakthrough in the journal Nature.

Another audience member asked how Johnson & Johnson Innovation deals with sectors that have accelerated product lifecycles. Ken responded that his company tries to identify true trends that will endure and which provide benefits for providers, patients, and consumers. He explained that the challenge for his company is to separate the faddish products from enduring ones that address an unmet medical need.

When asked what success metrics he uses when partnering with companies, he replied that Johnson & Johnson Innovation’s goal is to build a sustainable network with investors, institutions and companies that fits within their portfolio and has a good ROI. When evaluating potential entrepreneurs, Ken explained that Johnson & Johnson Innovation thinks about the long term potential for both sides.​