Investing in innovation: Q&A with Jeanne Bolger
Jeanne Bolger has over 25 years of pharmaceutical industry experience in management roles across R&D, Commercial and Business Development. In February 2013, Jeanne started with Johnson & Johnson Innovation - JJDC as Vice President, Venture Investments. Jeanne is based in London, UK at the Johnson & Johnson Innovation Centre. Jeanne's primary role focuses on investing and managing portfolio investments in the pharmaceuticals and biotechnology areas in Europe. In 2015, Jeanne was named Irish Business Woman of the Year, in the overseas category, by IMAGE Magazine.
Q: How do the London Innovation Centre (LIC) and JJDC operate as one team? What does this mean in practice?
A: JJDC often acts as a window into the London Innovation Centre (LIC). Companies typically approach JJDC looking for investment, and from there, the team works together to figure out the best approach to support the company through investment or other collaborative structures. JJDC is a strategic investor. JJDC works closely with scientific experts in the Innovation Centre and with entrepreneurs to invest in technologies and potential products that are of potential interest to Johnson & Johnson's pipeline. When we engage with entrepreneurs, academics and innovators, we work to figure out the best way to move forward. We do not decide upfront if we're going to go down the road of equity or collaboration, rather we look at the needs of the individual company and entrepreneurs and build a plan around those needs. Our co-location with the Innovation Centre teams allows us to engage in a meaningful way with the innovation ecosystem and creates the platform for a beneficial relationship for all involved. With this, it becomes critical that JJDC and the Innovation Centre works closely together through the process.
Q: Tell us about some of the new healthcare opportunities and trends that are sparking your interest right now.
A: A unique trend we are seeing now is the convergence between all sectors, including drug development, consumer, and devices. The field of digital health is making strides in development of devices and sensors that can capture physiological performance parameters which in turn help individuals create behavioral changes in terms of disease treatment and prevention. Additionally, there has been an interest in the ability to integrate big data sets collected from health devices over long periods of time to monitor patient's healthcare information. On the pharmaceuticals / biotechnology side there is a strong convergence in biology and technology in the fields of immunology and oncology, immunology and neuroscience, engineering of genes and proteins, all of which is creating an exciting era of innovation in addressing some of the areas of highest unmet need with novel and targeted therapies. Personalized medicine is certainly experiencing a complete re-birth! Of course, the science of the microbiome is creating an explosion of novel science and untapped therapeutic possibilities for metabolic, inflammatory, infectious and even neurological diseases.
Q: What are some noteworthy investments you have helped facilitate? What's been your proudest moment?
A: Recently we invested in Aelix Therapeutics, a HIV vaccine company in Barcelona, Spain. This was an important moment because it can be very difficult for HIV vaccine technologies to gain backing from venture capital investment and they mainly rely on funding from non-profits. At Aelix, we are developing an HTI immunogen as a therapeutic vaccine for HIV infection. It's great to be involved in something like this because it's important research that may not have been explored without the investment and collaborations of all those working on it.
Q: In your mind what defines Johnson & Johnson Innovation's leadership and how can this be sustained?
A: Our location here, in the middle of a vibrant life sciences innovation ecosystem in Europe," and empowered to establish deep engagement and active collaboration with that ecosystem, gives us a unique perspective and competitive advantage. Many companies try to do this, but our model of innovation is unique and powerful. Each Innovation Centre is staffed with highly experienced scientific and technical experts, drug developers, deal-makers and investors, all of them dedicated to making an impact on their local ecosystem. . This dedication is demonstrated throughout collaborations, investments, JLABS, JLINX, and our Innovation Centres worldwide. Having dual perspective of the company, internally and externally allows for a sustainable model of integrating thought leadership. The team interacts with the ecosystem through nurturing, developing- and cultivating emerging entrepreneurs and early-stage companies through the duration of our work together.
Q: How can companies benefit from the presence of women at the board and on executive teams?
A: It's clear that women bring diversity to a team dynamic. At the end of the day, developing innovative healthcare solutions based on science and technology is a long game requiring open mindedness, patience, perseverance and a collaborative spirit, qualities which women possess in abundance. To bring more diversity to our business we must start by developing women's expertise at a young age. Lots of women are coming in to the sciences, but the goal is to get female scientists to stay the course and continue climbing the academic and industry ladder to encourage diversity throughout the industry. To reach this goal, this idea must be encouraged by all, not just by women on behalf of women. By doing this, women can gain experience and work towards positions as CSO and CEO and on company Boards.
Q: What's one piece of advice you'd give to emerging biotech entrepreneurs?
A: As an entrepreneur, it's vital to create a meticulous plan for your business and specifically what future investments will go towards. By doing this, you'll be able to attract investors based on the data and plan you've already generated. Emerging entrepreneurs should also think about the steps and requirements from inception to certain milestones and plan how to get funding to reach a milestone. The more meticulous you are with planning your next milestone and how you are going to get there, the more likely you are to convince capital investors to give you money to do so.