J&J to open biotech incubator at MaRS

Brad DuguidTORONTO – Ontario is spending $19.4 million to bring a Johnson & Johnson biotech incubator to the MaRS discovery district. Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid (pictured) said the money, which comes from the government’s existing 10-year, $2.5-billion Jobs and Prosperity Fund, will be more than matched by the U.S. pharmaceutical giant.

“Because of confidentiality and from a business perspective, Johnson & Johnson would prefer that the total amounts of their investment not be disclosed,” said Duguid. “It’s a competitiveness issue.”

“I can assure you that their investment is significantly more than ours,” he added.

The company will rent an entire floor of the University of Toronto-owned portion of the MaRS west tower for its first JLABS facility outside the United States. The Toronto lab will be larger than its counterparts in Boston, Houston, or San Francisco.

As it does at other JLABS, Johnson & Johnson, whose subsidiary Janssen is Canada’s largest pharmaceutical company, will provide research facilities for small, independent biotech start-ups.

“Our goal is to give innovators access to many of the same benefits that internal R&D teams have in big companies, all as a ‘no-strings-attached’ model,” said Melinda Richter, the head of JLABS.

“Johnson & Johnson does not receive any shares in the companies that come into JLABS, nor is it entitled to any rights to products developed by those companies,” said Richter, emphasizing the corporate giant wants “to enable innovators to successfully get their research to the people who need it.”

University of Toronto president Meric Gertler said partnering with the firm makes sense.

“We host a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem featuring nine campus-led accelerators under the umbrella of our Banting & Best Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship,” said Gertler, adding the new lab could lead to new medical breakthroughs.

The 40,000-square foot JLABS facility will also boast a “device-and-digital-prototype lab” to help scientists develop health apps and equipment.

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