'A match made in heaven'


Industry has had to change its approach to innovation as the world becomes more inter-connected, according to Seema Kumar, Vice President, Innovation, Global Health, and Policy Communication, Johnson & Johnson.

Kumar spoke to BiotechDispatch in advance of giving a keynote address on 'deepening trust and engagement' to the Corporate Affairs Summit in Sydney. She is responsible for communications regarding enterprise innovation and R&D, medical safety and ethics, policy, and global health. She also serves as the communication leader for the Johnson & Johnson R&D Management Committee and the Johnson & Johnson Innovation Centers.

Kathy Connell, Sydney-based Director of New Ventures, Australia and New Zealand, California Innovation Centre at Johnson & Johnson Innovation, joined the discussion.

Kumar says externalisation is driving a better understanding of industry and its approach to innovation, which feeds into enhanced reputation.

"We're dealing with complex diseases," says Kumar. "The easy ones are done and a consortium approach is required. From the J&J perspective, we've had to change how we look at science because it's no longer about what happens inside our four walls. A great idea can come from anywhere and that means we have to be there to find it.

"This is a trend across the world and different sectors but, in what has been a relatively short space of time, we've gone from being not known as a company that does this sort of thing to one that is becoming a partner of choice, based on surveys and research. There is a much better appreciation of what we bring to the table and that's positive for reputation.

"What used to happen in silos is now more inter-connected. We see this as an unbelievable opportunity to be part of unprecedented advances in science and technology, which is why we've established innovation centres, as well as incubators - called JLABS - where researchers are welcomed into a no-strings attached environment.

"We're better placed than we were five years ago, with respect to awareness and reputation, but we can always do better. Science as an enterprise has been working in silos for a long time so that will take time to change."

According to Connell, who is responsible for establishing and nurturing many research relationships in Australia and New Zealand, J&J's more outward looking approach benefits academia as much as the company.

"One of the things we've seen with the focus on external innovation is that the experience of researchers is growing - they're having more contact with industry and building their knowledge of how they can make their idea into the next great medical breakthrough.

"The conversation has evolved from how and who to what does the journey look like and how can we accelerate it?

"We've seen a real cascade of opportunities come into J&J in the last five years, as we open up and grow our external presence. We've done more than 30 collaborations across Australia and having a local presence on the ground definitely makes a difference."

The company is also focussed on leveraging collaborations to increase the number of women studying in the fields of science, technology, engineering, math, manufacturing and design (STEM2D).

It has announced collaborations with 10 leading academic centres around the world that it says are one part of a boarder effort to accelerate the development of women leaders and to support women at all stages of their life to improve global health and well-being and drive sustainable economic growth.

Kumar says this is an example of why industry and academia is "a match made in heaven, because it operates on so many levels".

"Governments around the world understand this. It used to be a church and state divide, with everyone doing their own thing, but science and innovation have become a global team sport. From a reputational perspective, I think researchers increasingly understand we want to partner with them on their careers and best ideas - we don't want to take them away."

She says the reputational benefit flows to all industry, not just J&J.

Building trust and engagement over time are central to enhancing industry's reputation, says Kumar. "We can do this with a few ingredients, such as a bold vision - you have to declare a significant goal that anybody and everybody is willing to sign up to. You have to build a global strategy, with local implementation, focussed on something that creates value."

Connell says innovation is about daring to have the courage to do something differently. "People putting everything on the line to innovate, being courageous to do something that will improve health."