We recently sat down with Sean Evans, our newly appointed Scientific Engagement Lead for JLABS @ US North East, to learn more about his background, what drives his interest in life sciences, and his vision for the role.
Q: You’re joining Johnson & Johnson Innovation – JLABS from The Johns Hopkins University, where you most recently led the exploration of strategic healthcare research partnerships and managed and expanded existing external industry alliances. Can you speak to how you feel your past experiences could position you to be particularly effective in this new role as Scientific Engagement Lead for JLABS @ US North East (NYC, Boston, & Philadelphia)?
I spent the past 14 years at Hopkins, and the first eight years were as a life sciences graduate student (MS Biotech ‘06, PhD Molecular Microbiology and Immunology ‘14), where my coursework and research drilled in the importance of the scientific method. Towards the end of my graduate work, which was largely basic research, I became more interested in seeing the ultimate impact of early discovery through translation to new medicines, diagnostics, and devices.
I started my career in technology transfer and commercialization in 2012 as a part-time fellow in our technology commercialization office. In this role, I focused primarily on providing technical, IP and market diligence for new incoming invention reports. In my most recent role, I was responsible for establishing and managing research collaborations with industry partners. By engaging with both internal research faculty and potential external partners, we aligned on the scientific interests, sourced promising technologies and programs, shaped research partnerships via appropriate contracting, and managed those collaborations and our contractual obligations. I also served as a business advisor to faculty who had potentially impactful ideas and inventions and needed support on identifying the commercialization path with the highest likelihood of success.
In my new role, I hope to engage with and support innovators within academia and early stage companies to build a strong biotech ecosystem in the US North East. In addition to the above, I feel my scientific curiosity, excitement, and passion for innovation will be essential to this new role.
Q: The Scientific Engagement Lead is a newly created role within Johnson & Johnson Innovation – JLABS. How do you anticipate measuring ‘success’ in your first year at Johnson & Johnson Innovation – JLABS? What are you most looking forward to? What do you think might be challenging?
Success in this role for me will focus on engagement with the academic research and biotech community and identifying the best companies and cutting-edge technology to join the Johnson & Johnson Innovation – JLABS community. Our goal is to create a world class portfolio of resident companies that align with areas of interest for Johnson & Johnson and help build the US North East biotech ecosystem.
After so many years at one research university (albeit one of the most productive in making new discoveries and translating them), I am very excited to learn about amazing early stage innovation and companies arising from other university research labs and broader biotech community. With that said, I realize that there is no shortage of great science and potentially game-changing innovation to review, which is a great challenge to have. In addition to identifying promising technologies/companies that are currently on-strategy for Johnson & Johnson, we’re also looking for those potentially disruptive and breakthrough technologies of the future. Predicting success for these opportunities with precision is never easy.
Q: One of your primary responsibilities will be sourcing and evaluating innovative companies. What are some key things you look for while assessing a start-up?
I’ll first say that evaluating newcos, particularly early stage pre-clinical biotech companies, is no easy task, given the vast number of variables. Some key factors that I take into account when assessing a company include:
- The novelty of the approach (i.e. incremental vs disruptive/breakthrough innovation)
- Whether the company is developing a singular solution or a platform
- Convincing data/proof of concept
- IP portfolio
- Management team experience/backgrounds
- Existing collaborations/partnerships.
Q: Another major responsibility of yours will be to help coach and advice the Johnson & Johnson Innovation – JLABS residents through key milestones. How can start-ups build effective relationships with their mentors in your opinion? As a former founder, what advice do you wish you’d been given?
Give it 200%, be PROACTIVE, and don’t be afraid to fail!
Q: In your opinion, what are some of the hottest trends in healthcare innovation?
It goes without saying that telemedicine, remote patient monitoring, and consumer healthtech solutions are some of the hottest areas right now in healthcare, given the pandemic. I don’t see this slowing down at any point soon. Other digital health areas such as health data management and the use of AI/ML in its analysis are also areas that I anticipate will continue to grow.
From a therapeutics perspective, research leading to novel infectious disease medicines/vaccines can currently be considered as top of mind, especially those that may combat CoV2 or other coronavirus infections. Beyond ID, treatment solutions for immunology, oncology, neuro, and rare diseases remain hot areas of investigation for many companies. The gene and cell therapy space has exploded over the past few years, due to recent successes. And finally, recent scientific advancements have unlocked the possibility of drugging targets, once believed to be undruggable.
Q: You’re about to make the move to the Big Apple with your dog! What are you most excited about?
New York City is such a vibrant, diverse, and culturally rich place. The innovation that resides in the prestigious research universities and commitments from both government and private firms to biotechnology makes this opportunity one too good to pass up.