Johnson & Johnson is a unique corporation containing huge pharmaceutical companies, a major medical devices company, and a consumer products division. As such, it is well prepared for the coming years, in which a trend towards synergy between these fields is projected. The company has been a veteran investor and buyer of companies in Israel since the 1990s, and is known for leaving most of its acquired companies independent and active. Among others, it acquired Biosense, whose sales turnover currently exceeds $1 billion, and Jerusalem company Omrix Biopharmaceuticals.
Johnson & Johnson's representative at this year's biomedical conference is Dr. Joan Waldstreicher, its chief medical officer, who is responsible for clinical trials, and also deals with cooperative enterprises and R&D, among other things with potential partners and acquisitions.
"Globes": What leading products have you launched in recent years?
Waldstreicher: "Over the past five years, we in the pharma division have launched 14 new medicinal products, all of which are breakthroughs. The most prominent are probably the Sirturo drug for tuberculosis and the Ibrutinib drug for blood cancer. In the medical devices sector, we're very excited about what's happening at Biosense Webster, based on the acquired Israeli company, which specializes in atrial fibrillation heartbeat disorders. The product was developed in cooperation with teams in Haifa and California, and the Israeli contribution is very important here. The Haifa team won three Johnson medals for scientists in five years, an unprecedented number for a single team, which shows how innovative the Israeli team is.
"The adhesive bandage for stopping surgical hemorrhaging, originally developed by Omrix in Jerusalem, is also an exciting product for us." Johnson & Johnson is currently in a legal proceeding regarding Omrix against the state of Israel. The state alleges that Omrix did not pay the required amount for the intellectual property, which it says was developed in a government hospital. In the past, Johnson & Johnson greatly reduced its new investments in Israel, among other things because of the trial, but relations have improved over the past two years.
Which areas are considered especially important for future development?
"Cancer, especially blood, lung, and prostate cancer; the metabolic diseases and diabetes; infectious diseases and vaccinations; and Alzheimer's Disease and autoimmune brain diseases (such as multiple sclerosis, G.W.). On the more general level, we want to intervene in a disease before it becomes a disease. This is a very important element in all of our plans. For this purpose, we need a more profound knowledge of the basic mechanism of each disease, and for prevention, we need much safer products without side effects.
"We have a new and interesting focus: the human microbiome. This refers to the reciprocal relationship between the microbes living inside our bodies and on our skin and the diseases we contract. We hope to research the details of this influence. For this purpose, we are utilizing our synergy between the pharma sector and the consumer products sector. For example, our pharma company is researching the behavior of the skin in a disease like psoriasis, while our cosmetic division has a deep understanding of the skin from the perspective of cosmetics. Representatives of the two groups are working together in a special institute for micribiome research that we set up a few months ago, in which we're cooperating with a number of the universities and young companies. We think this is a period of significant change in the microbiome field, which can be relevant to metabolic, infectious, and inflammatory diseases, and perhaps also cancer."
Another slightly unusual activity by Johnson & Johnson that Waldstreicher told us about is cooperation with IBM and Apple Computers. This is multidisciplinary cooperation in computer support for patients, monitoring their state, and information processing. It is based, however, on existing technology for preparing patients for surgery. A patient about to undergo joint replacement surgery, for example, can already obtain a video with a simulation of the operation and instructions for making preparations for surgery. After the operation, he can obtain instructions for exercising at home, an appointment to see a physiotherapist, and monitoring of his activity, including feedback.
Why has the medical devices sector been so difficult recently? It is hard for companies to raise capital, hard for them to grow, and hard to penetrate the market, at a time when the pharma market is experiencing stunning growth.
"There are ups and downs in the health sectors. Indeed, in the medical equipment sector, we're at a low point of the wave - that's fairly clear. Nevertheless, there is no change in the need of companies like ours for innovation in medical equipment to generate growth for us, and that's even truer now than in the past. It's true that regulation procedures and insurance reimbursement have become much more challenging, but this is understandable, in view of the health system's spiraling costs. We offer our partner companies a great deal of advice about regulation and reimbursement, so that they will part of the solution for the health system, not part of the problem. Any product that serves a clear need has a chance, and a clinical trial can be devised to show that the product really makes a significant difference.
"We're looking for companies that seem to be really aiming at changing the medical world from top to bottom - companies that really understand the medicine of the future, and are headed there."
How have clinical trials changed as a result of the economic trends in the health system, with an emphasis on demonstrating economic value?
"We have begun collecting much more information in the clinical trials themselves, and more information from the 'real world,' so that we'll be able to follow our products after they're launched."
You are a partner in the technology incubator in Israel. What motivates you to do that?
"The depth of science in Israel, in addition to the capabilities of our partners (OrbiMed Advisors LLC and Japanese company Takeda Pharmaceutical, G.W.), and management, headed by Dr. Einat Zisman. We believe that we'll be able to derive breakthrough science in pharmaceutics from the incubator, and we're encouraging all the researchers to come to us."
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on May 12, 2015
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