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Looking Beyond the Boundaries of Healthcare Innovation in 2021 with Stephen Pitt, Head of JLABS US North East, Johnson & Johnson Innovation


Stephen Pitt returned to the Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies as Regional Head of JLABS US North East just over one year ago—bringing over two decades of experience across academia and industry. During an interview with us in early 2020, Stephen shared that for him “success for Johnson & Johnson Innovation - JLABS would be making progress against some of our most challenging health problems…” As we kick off a new year, Stephen joins us again to reflect on the success achieved, and to look at emerging trends ahead.  

Q.  It’s right around your anniversary as Regional Head of JLABS US North East. Can you summarize the last year, both for the Johnson & Johnson Innovation - JLABS team and the healthcare innovation ecosystem?

At Johnson & Johnson Innovation, our collaboration model aims to help us progress our mission while remaining nimble to pivot wherever the world needs us at a moment’s notice. Thinking back to one year ago, I don’t think anyone realized just how historic 2020 would become. Despite the pandemic’s implications, I enter 2021 feeling proud to continue being part of the extraordinary effort that aims to bring solutions to patients.

At Johnson & Johnson Innovation – JLABS, 2020 will be remembered as a time of giving back to our startup community—providing financial relief to more than 200 companies across the globe and working toward achieving a more diverse representation of populations disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. We also formed a partnership with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) called BLUE KNIGHT™, that allows us to help stimulate technological innovation that aims to improve health security and response to emerging infectious diseases.

Q: Do you anticipate your portfolio strategy will shift for 2021—particularly given the shift in circumstances from last year until now?

Across our regions, we hope to bring in companies at the intersection of the Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies’ business strategies and the unique strengths of each local ecosystem.

At a glance, our 2021 collaborative focus includes:

  • Philadelphia – Cell & Gene Therapy, Neuroscience and Medical Devices
  • Boston – Digital Health, Medical Devices, and the Broader Biotech Ecosystem
  • New York City – Digital Health, Immunology, Neuroscience, Consumer Health and in our cross-sector World Without Disease Accelerator.

JLABS @ NYC will be participating in several QuickFire Challenges squarely in our 2021 focus areas. One Challenge already announced with a rapidly approaching deadline is the NYC Innovation QuickFire Challenge on Neuroscience. I encourage innovators working on disruptive ideas aimed at  improving neurological treatments and outcomes to learn more or apply by February 12, 2021. QuickFire Challenges are excellent opportunities to potentially collaborate!

Q: We talked about some of the hottest trends in healthcare innovation during our interview last year. What are you seeing for emerging trends in 2021?

In 2020, life was derailed in the workplace when many of us suddenly found ourselves holding virtual meetings from our computers at home. I believe this shift expedited a meaningful, efficient, and entirely virtual world for the life sciences community. With many startups successfully running research virtually and operating in socially distanced office-to-lab converted spaces, I feel the future became brighter for our industry’s entrepreneurs embracing a virtual model.

Patient care, too, acclimated to the virtual world, as people increasingly saw doctors virtually for medical advice, diagnosis, and prescription orders from the comfort of home – the CDC reported a 154% increase in telemedicine visits in late March 2020 compared to the year prior. In 2021, as technology and data become more prominent than ever in achieving complete patient care, I believe the industry will also dedicate itself to taking that same innovation virtual to reach more people in need. 

In the year ahead, our commitment to diversity as an industry must be a business imperative. I think we’ll see progress in addressing health inequities through the democratization of clinical trials and headway in creating universal vaccines.

Q: Looking into 2021, what do you believe will be the key to success?

2020 brought promising new Johnson & Johnson Innovation - JLABS residents and exemplified Johnson & Johnson Innovation’s ability to mobilize. We learned that the healthcare industry is capable of coming together as a united front to bring forth rapid potential solutions.

In 2021, the focus on healthcare and the unprecedented collaboration in our industry will probably only continue. The pandemic has accelerated the pace of innovation from discovery to launch.  We have seen a dramatic shift in healthcare access and associated technologies for remote patient monitoring, diagnostics, vaccines, and novel therapies to name a few.  With the public’s unapparelled focus on health, record funding flowing into biotech, and technology/scientific advancements, I believe we will look back at 2021 as a momentous year for biotech!