Medical Devices

J&J early stage collaborations span 3D printing for orthopedics, brown fat, biosensors

drug development lab vials

A little over a year after it opened a Boston innovation center, Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ) unveiled a series of research and development collaborations and investments in early-stage companies that reads like a smorgasboard of cutting-edge biotechnology and medical devices. It includes collaborations with six Massachusetts companies and gives a sense of the big pharma/medical device company’s priorities for the future.

Here’s an overview of some of these collaborations and investments. They include 3D printing for skeletal reconstruction implants, advancing brown fat for treating metabolic disorders and using biosensors to adjust anesthesia levels. In addition to Boston, these collaborations reflect the work of a group of innovation centers in California and London. A Shanghai unit will be opening soon.

3-D printing for orthopedics: J&J’s medical device arm, DePuy Synthes Products and Johnson & Johnson Innovation formed a strategic collaboration with medical device company Tissue Regenerative Systems to develop customized, resorbable implants for large bone segmental defect treatment in trauma and orthopedic oncology. The company’s first FDA approved device is a coated, bioresorbable skeletal reconstruction implant to fix burr holes made during neurosurgery. An advantage of the technology is that it doesn’t require metal screws for attachment. The collaboration also includes potential future development opportunities for applications within DePuy Synthes’ areas of strategic interest.


Brown fat as metabolic disorder treatment: Unlike normal fat cells, brown fat cells convert energy from food into heat. Brown fat has been a growing source of interest among scientists as a source of potential therapeutics for obesity and metabolic disorders. A collaboration between J&J’s pharma arm, Janssen Pharmaceuticals and its innovation center and Energesis Pharmaceuticals, is looking at biological compounds that stimulate the formation of brown fat to treat metabolic diseases. The company’s approach involves using brown adipose tissue to increase the body’s ability to burn stored fat and lower insulin resistance.

Biosensors to sense sedation levels: BrainStem Biometrics  forged a research collaboration and option agreement with J&J’s surgical arm Ethicon. The company’s BrainStem Biometrics’ Tremor Monitor Unit, is a medical device biosensor used to measure brain stem function by detecting subtle eye movements in patients undergoing general anesthesia. Ethicon will co-fund studies to confirm the clinical and operational utility of the device. It could be used to identify safe and unsafe levels of sedation. Although adverse events from anesthesia have declined, this technology could improve current practice.

Growth factor to treat heart disease: Ascelegen Therapeutics, a biotech company interested in applying growth-factor therapies to treat cardiovascular diseases, got an equity investment from J&J’s venture arm. The company was also part of Atlas Venture’s seed class of biotech companies last year.

Rheumatoid arthritis: Padlock Therapeutics (@PadlockTx) is developing new therapies to combat the autoantigens tied to the development of rheumatoid arthritis which drive inflammation and can lead to autoimmune disease. J&J’s venture arm took part in a Series A for the company. The company was also in Atlas Venture’s seed class of biotech companies last year.

Treating diabetes: Navitor Pharmaceuticals received venture investment from J&J as part of a $23.5 million Series A round. The company has also received backing from Polaris Partners, Atlas Venture, SR One and The Longevity Fund. Navitor’s approach uses the mTORC1 pathway, responsible for how cells respond to nutrient availability from cell growth to function, to develop new therapies for diabetes and other disease areas. There are currently 20 clinical trials in various stages of development focusing on mTORC1.

Prostate cancer: Aduro BioTech licensed prostate cancer immunotherapies under development to Janssen Biotech and Johnson & Johnson Innovation. J&J’s venture arm also participated in the company’s Series C round.

Dementia: Rodin Therapeutics received funding from J&J’s venture arm in its Series A round. The company was one of the first to collaborate with J&J’s Boston innovation center. Rodin identifies epigenetic modulators to treat cognitive disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease — an area that scientists find promising. Atlas Venture and Proteros biostructures started Rodin last year.

Janssen Research & Development’s neuroscience therapeutic area division also plans to participate in the UK Dementias Research Platform — a Medical Research Council initiative to accelerate dementias research progress through a public-private partnership. It involves six industry and eight academic institutions.

[Photo of lab from Flickr user CENews]

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