News | Johnson & Johnson launch in Houston means large potential and lots of work

October 31, 2014

By Joe Martin | Houston Business Journal 

The confirmation of New Jersey-basedJohnson & Johnson's (NYSE: JNJ) plans to open one of its life sciences incubators in the Texas Medical Center is yet another piece of the puzzle to transform TMC's research into commercial products.

The 30,000-square-foot J-Labs @ TMCx will be able to house 50 companies. Once it opens next year, it will feature labs for pharmaceutical and medical device startups to develop new drugs or hardware, and office space for them, as well. More important, it aims to be a gathering hub for Houston's life sciences industry, which many say the city has lacked in years past.

However, it won't be easy for J-Labs and TMCx to achieve success. They must convince Houston companies to stay in the city and grow here, as well as attract companies from more traditional life science hubs like Boston and California.

Dr. Robert Robbins, president and CEO of TMC

Why has it taken so long for a company like Johnson & Johnson to open a space in Houston? Because the economy was so focused on energy, I think the capital and the understanding of the ecosystem of life sciences — despite having all of this clinical activity — was missing, because people were so focused on energy and space.

There's (also) new leadership in the Texas Medical Center …. I think it's a timing and convergence of shared vision that this is an opportunity waiting to happen. It was primarily the driving force that I came here for.

What is a marker of success for this partnership? We already know that there are about 10 to 15 companies here that are sprinkled out. The thing they don't have is a common gathering place. The accelerator and the incubator and the further space we're going to develop will give them home where they can leverage off the expertise that J-Labs brings …. We're (also) going to have office space for (General Electric (NYSE: GE)) when they come into town; we're going to have it for Fiser (Group), for Medtronic (Inc.), for others so that all the activity will be focused in this one place.

Melinda Richter, head of J-Labs

Describe the J-Labs model and what it does to help ideas grow. We're going to have a center that will hopefully be like a hub for everybody in life sciences to come to be connected to get informed, to gain knowledge — apart from the companies that will reside there, we want it to be for everybody.

We're going to mimic all the important things every single biotech device (or) digital company needs in one single infrastructure play so nobody has to go out and recreate it themselves.

What is the goal for J-Labs @ TMCx? Great science is just as likely to come from outside the walls of a big company as it is to come from inside the walls of a big company. The fact of the matter is, great science that comes from outside of a big company faces so many more hurdles to become a patient solution, and so, our goal is to take down those obstacles that prohibits science from succeeding or failing on its own.

Bill McKeon, COO of TMC

How's Houston's life sciences ecosystem different than Boston's or San Diego's? When you look at the leaders in the energy (industry in Houston), it's not because of the oil wells here. It's because the mindset of the intellectual capital surrounding here is now a beacon around the world. So anyone who wants to develop fracking or fields, they come to Houston for that.

We know we have the clinical assets here, we know we have the research assets here …. In a lot of those other ecosystems, they might have expertise, but they have to go validate it. That's what makes this unique to everything else, this is the largest Petri dish in the world.

How will this partnership help draw companies from outside Houston, and keep local companies here? Gone are the days where people drive down to their local accelerator and apply and get in. They are moving their companies around the assets they believe will help them be successful.

It's a combination of this backdrop of J-Labs now here, funding and all of this machinery working together. It's a halo effect, a domino effect on each of them.