"There's an Israeli working on every problem the world calls insoluble"

Dr. Garry Neil, who runs Johnson & Johnson's innovation search unit, doesn't mind where the ideas come from an academic researcher or a mature company.

Johnson & Johnson (J&J) is one of the most active companies in M&A in Israel, the kind that Israeli start-ups love to be bought by, particularly because of its tendency to allow them a considerable degree of autonomy. Since the early 1990s, J&J has bought companies here to the tune of more than $1 billion: Prof. Shlomo Ben-Haim and Lewis Pell's Biosense for half a billion dollars; ColBar for $159 million; and Omrix for $425 million. Biosense and Omrix remain to this day Israeli R&D centers.

"For every problem in the world recognized an insoluble, there is one Israeli or more energetically working on it," says Dr. Garry Neil, corporate vice president at the Corporate Office of Science and Technology (COSAT) at J&J, in an exclusive interview with "Globes." COSAT is responsible for J&J's early stage cooperation with academic instructions and young companies. "The book 'Start-up Nation' sums it up well. Israelis aren't afraid of technology and want to solve problems. Apart from that, because everybody knows everybody, they gladly exchange information. It's wonderful."

Neil will come to Israel to lecture at the ILSI-Biomed Israel Conference 2011, which will take place from May 23 to 25 in Tel Aviv. This the annual conference's tenth year.

Mature companies can approach us too

The pharma and medical device giant has a strong connection with Israel in the shape of investments to the tune of tens of millions of dollars in Israel through its venture capital fund Johnson & Johnson Development Corporation (JJDC), where the vice president for venture investments is the Israeli Dr. Zeev Zehavi.

The fund has invested in Percutaneous Valve Technologies (PVT) (sold to Edwards Lifesciences), BrainsGate, Impulse Dynamics, McRobot, NovoCure, GeneGrafts, Topspin Medical (which became a stock market shell) Medigus, Mazor, Bioness, ApoSense, and two other companies that shut down.

J&J employs eleven thousand researchers and engineers around the world, and is active in three main fields: medical devices, drugs, and consumer products. Neil's role is, among other things, to encourage cooperation between the researchers in all the company's areas of activity.

For start-up companies interested in working with J&J, COSAT is a good starting point. Neil has an overview of the company’s R&D needs, because COSAT is in touch with all J&J's subsidiaries and partners.

J&J ascribes great importance to Israel, and so COSAT has stationed a technology hunter here by the name of Dr. Joni Catalano-Sherman, whose task is to find the hot developments.

Innovative ideas can reach COSAT from within the company or from outside it. "We take care of interactivity between the corporation's diverse R&D groups, in order to accelerate innovation within, and we learn from the R&D people what their needs are, in order to know what to look for outside," he says.

J&J has many collaborations at the academic stage, and has good relations with the universities in Israel. Sometimes, the collaboration proceeds directly from the academic institution to the industry via a PreVenture, a venture that COSAT builds with an academic researcher, in which J&J finances the researcher's independent R&D, with the aim of setting up a joint company later on.

Most of the Israeli companies in which J&J has invested were at a more mature stage when the two sides met. "We are a suitable address for mature companies too," Neil says.

Areas of recent interest to J&J are biological markers and personalized drugs. "This will gather momentum very soon, together with improvement in computing capabilities and cheaper genome sequencing," he says. "The change will start with cancer. In my opinion, the pharma industry will improve treatment of the disease substantially in the next five years. The pharma companies have 800 cancer drugs in clinical trials."

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on May 5, 2011

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2011

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