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6 Questions with Guenter Huhle, the New Head of JLABS EMEA


With the growth of pharma and biotech in Europe expected to grow from €169 Billion just a few years ago to €206 Billion by 2022, there has never been a better time for a new European start-up to turn their great idea into the next game-changing app, therapy, medical device, pharmaceutical, or discovery.

But these ambitious and brilliant innovators need more than just drive and knowledge to take that idea from the bench and drawing board to the global marketplace.

That’s why we are very excited to announce on top of our JLABS site in Beerse, Belgium, that Guenter Huhle previously Vice President of New Business Development and Mature Brands at Janssen, will be the Head of JLABS EMEA.

With a background in medicine, education, entrepreneurship, and business leadership, Guenter is well-positioned to see the challenges faced by new businesses from all sides of the table and help deliver upon JLABS’ mission to support innovators by bringing them the tools, knowledge, and guidance to navigate the European ecosystem.

We recently had the opportunity to ask Guenter a few questions about what led him to JLABS, which areas he is most passionate about, and the role he sees JLABS playing in this unique ecosystem.


What interested you in the role at JLABS?

JLABS’ open innovation approach and external partnership approach, be it from the collaborative financing model up to scientific collaborations, is what most interested me.

I personally experienced the value of accelerators and collaboration platforms to speed up the product development with my own family-run start-up. The mentality in that space is far off the “not invented here” mindset, and I think we at Johnson & Johnson can learn a lot from start-ups while supporting them with our innovation, science, and research ecosystem as well as our market access capabilities.


What in your background lead you to JLABS?

As a student, physician, and professor, I personally felt the urgency and drive many scientists experience to use new technology to improve the lives of patients everywhere. Three years ago, this led me to launch my own biotech start-up, Emergencyeye, to help save cardiac arrest patients by immediately connecting dispatchers to the cameras and geolocation of bystanders’ mobile phones.

It was there that I experienced first-hand the frustrating challenges innovators and early adopters in this space can contend with, and I learned the value accelerators and collaboration platforms can provide through capital, mentorship, and access to specialized equipment to help speed up product development.

As an executive at Eli Lilly, Merck, and eventually Janssen, I took this entrepreneurial passion and combined it with the new lessons I was picking up about how big businesses approach commercialization and product development.

The scientist and optimist in me envisions a world without disease through prevention, interception, and treatment before people even become patients—a world where the industry provides better solutions to patients faster.

The investor and executive in me—also an optimist—isn’t looking for innovations that will only incrementally change the current treatments and products, but ones that will completely disrupt the way we approach healthcare.

If I had to distil the big lessons I learned in all those roles down to just one, it would be this: Success is about forming high-performing teams and fostering collaboration, be it with students, businesses, or patients.

It just so happens that this guiding philosophy aligns perfectly with the JLABS model.


What are the biggest challenges that are unique to the European market, and how will JLABS address them?

The challenges the European market presents to medical, pharma, and biotech innovators are great. EMEA is unique in its decentralized decision making and the high complexity of its health care regulations and financing. Emerging companies and start-ups can struggle to find money and affordable space. Fortunes in time and money are spent on operations alone. The sheer amount of paperwork and regulations can be intimidating, and the EU’s fragmented innovation network doesn’t help.

Regions in EU need to build innovation strategies and serve as hubs for innovators and entrepreneurs while remaining connected worldwide. Innovation can happen anywhere, and cross fertilization must not be narrowed down just to the EMEA neighbourhood. My goal is to move away from this excessive centralization to create an ecosystem and platform for global hubs to collaborate freely.


What were your first impressions or surprises from JLABS @ BE?

JLABS @ BE is located at the heart of the Beerse Janssen R&D Campus and the site’s legacy of discovery and development is not lost on me. This is the place where Dr. Paul Janssen first established Janssen Pharmaceutica NV six decades ago.

Now, with JLABS, the site is ready to carry on that tradition by not only providing emerging European biotech and digital health start-ups with the facilities, expertise, and equipment to move their business to the next level, but to connect them with a global network of already established incubator sites. JLABS is one of the few, if not only, incubator with this worldwide capability, and I fully intend on using it.


What about the future of this industry in Europe most interests you and what role will JLABS play in it?

Healthcare has entered a digital transformation process, but we are moving very slowly which sometimes tries my patience. At JLABS, especially in EMEA, we will connect with a highly decentralized and complex ecosystem in academia & research, regulations, and financing, just to name a few. Leveraging big data, multichannel communication, and technologies like machine learning and artificial intelligence will be key for success for us at JLABS, and the JLABS model is uniquely positioned to deliver.


What’s next for JLABS in EMEA?

First and foremost, the deadline to enter our European Innovation QuickFire Challenge is fast approaching on 15th June. The innovator with the best idea, technology, or solution that improves human healthcare and impacts the European ecosystem will receive up to €100,000 in grants as well as a voucher for one year of residency at an available JLABS location, including a laboratory bench, workstation, and access to the global JLABS community. The Challenge is open globally to anyone, and we can’t wait to see the quality of the entries.

More generally, my first steps as the head of EMEA is going to be to internally discuss expectations as well as reach out to potential clients, partners, and stakeholders. There are many excellent ideas and concepts out there waiting to be activated by the EMEA JLABS platform. So, all, please expect my call very soon!



JLABS @ BE will continue to benefit from 2.1 million euros of financial support granted by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the government agency Flanders Innovation & Entrepreneurship (VLAIO –Hermesfonds) in 2017.