What happens when a global leader in nanoelectronics and in health collaborate to explore bold ideas? Imec embarked on a collaboration with Johnson & Johnson Innovation to investigate early innovative projects together. We spoke to Maike Stenull of Johnson & Johnson Innovation about the aims and outcomes of this endeavor and the need for multidisciplinary solutions for tomorrow’s healthcare challenges.
Maike Stenull, Global Head of Strategy and Business Operations, Global External Innovation at Johnson & Johnson Innovation believes the future of healthcare will look very different from what we see and experience today. “Today’s healthcare would be more accurately described as ‘sick care’,” she says. “In the future, we will move more and more towards interception and prevention, instead of cures – a very compelling vision but one which requires a complete shift in how we think of care and its success.”
Another area that will only become more prominent going forward is smart and integrated data analytics, she adds: “We still have a long way to go when it comes to the true integration of the massive amounts of data generated in medicine.”
In her role, Stenull oversees all aspects of strategy development and operational excellence for the Global External Innovation division of the multinational healthcare company. External, collaborative innovation is essential because the challenges she describes will require multidisciplinary solutions.
“We believe a good idea can come from anywhere, and that is why outside collaborations are an essential part of Johnson & Johnson’s innovation agenda,” says Stenull. “Despite having some of the best scientists on our teams, they are always going to be only a small fraction of all of the world’s bright minds, so we truly believe we need to collaborate. Innovation is the lifeblood of our company. In addition to developing their own ideas, our scientists spot external innovation early on and make the call on what we pull in. We strive for roughly a 50-50 balance in external vs internally discovered and sourced innovation in our pipeline.”
Health meets tech
One of these innovation collaborators is imec. Imec entered a collaboration with Johnson & Johnson Innovation to stimulate external innovation and explore disruptive ideas that could benefit patients and society.
The plan was to find strategic areas of interest with an important technological component; first via selection by an internal steering committee at the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson and later in a joint steering committee with imec. Selected projects would be funded by the external innovation program.
One of the five selected projects focuses on improving the reliability of biosensors. Combining their expertise, DePuy Synthes Products, Inc., part of Johnson & Johnson MedTech, and imec teams are working on ways to reduce the size and increase the power of implantable biosensors, or alternatively, to reduce their power requirements, enabling passive powering of deep tissue implants. The goal is to improve monitoring precision and reliability of different clinical outcomes, for example bone healing.
Exchanging ideas sometimes yielded unexpected solutions. Stenull recounts one example where a Janssen team working on bladder cancer talked to imec researchers about sensor technology, only to realize that a sensor might be helpful to diagnose and treat overactive bladders instead. “Sometimes we veered from one disease to another within the same organ, other times we experiment with ideas for the same condition to different organs.”
Maarten Willems, Vice President of Global Business Development at imec, says the focus on early innovation makes this type of collaboration unique. “Both parties can learn a lot from each other’s perspective and vision on long-term challenges and future needs. The close collaboration enables us to work with the different sectors within Johnson & Johnson to develop technical and digital solutions.”
Stenull adds: “We were specifically looking for ‘early’ innovation, ideas that may need 10 years to develop. Such proof-of-concept, or even pre-proof-of-concept projects are incredibly interesting but also require a different mindset and experimentation. You need to run a marathon on top of the day-to-day sprints. You know you are working on something that may only see the light of day in a decade or so. Even though it is risky, you need to have the belief that it could be possible.”
The shared innovation continues to take root. “The program has delivered a stimulating collaboration,” says Stenull. “Collaborative projects are now taking off organically and bottom-up. It’s the positive outcome we were aiming for.”