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INNOVATION ECONOMY

Johnson & Johnson coming to Kendall Square

Johnson & Johnson is coming to Kendall.

One of the last big pharmaceutical companies without an outpost in the life sciences capital of the world is remedying that oversight, opening an office at One Cambridge Center this spring. Johnson & Johnson’s Boston Innovation Center will be run by Robert Urban, a one-time biotech entrepreneur who was most recently director of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT. Urban started at Johnson & Johnson in early November, and he is already managing a group of more than 20 employees — both new hires and Johnson & Johnson veterans who are relocating to the area — working in temporary office space in the Back Bay.

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New Jersey-based Johnson & Johnson, maker of Band-Aids and baby shampoo, is the second-biggest pharmaceutical company in the US by revenue, just behind Pfizer. (And Pfizer is building a big new research-and-development facility in Kendall, slated to be finished later this year.)

The Cambridge office will help forge and manage research collaborations with universities and companies working on new medical devices, drugs, diagnostics, and consumer health products, and also make investments in start-ups. Even before the establishment of the Boston Innovation Center, Johnson & Johnson has worked with MIT and local companies like Vertex Pharmaceuticals, Millennium Pharmaceuticals, and Alkermes.

“What we really hope to do is try to simplify for the outside world how you might try to interact with Johnson & Johnson,” Urban said this morning. “We have 250 businesses spread across the world. With these innovation centers in Boston, Menlo Park, London, and Shanghai, we’re creating four red doors” — red, of course, being the corporate hue — “that innovators can walk through to help them figure out who to work with here.”

The Boston Innovation Center will be staffed with technical experts in areas like neuroscience, oncology, and vaccines who can evaluate prospective partnerships; a team to craft contracts and then manage those partnerships; and also investors from Johnson & Johnson’s corporate venture capital arm.

Urban said the focus of the Boston Innovation Center will be on products that are “pre proof-of-concept, or basically pre-phase 2 randomized clinical trial.” Anything at a later stage would typically be handled by corporate development or mergers-and-acquisitions teams within Johnson & Johnson’s business units. And with several big Johnson & Johnson drugs having lost their patent protection in 2011 and 2012, it isn’t surprising that Urban adds, “We’re focused on collaborations that can head to commercialization as soon as possible.”

Urban said that setting up a Johnson & Johnson research-and-development lab in Cambridge isn’t part of the current plan. “It may turn out that as we do some of these projects [with partners], it might make sense for some of our researchers to work side-by-side with the companies, and we’re not averse to that,” he said. But the company’s strategy doesn’t involve establishing a “substantial physical research footprint here.”

Urban said about 65 percent of the Boston Innovation Center team are Johnson & Johnson employees who have transferred from elsewhere in the company, like finance director Salvatore Giovine. Others have been brought in from other companies, like vice president of oncology scientific innovation Pamela Carroll, who came from Roche Pharmaceuticals. Johnson & Johnson is still hiring for the new facility.

The company announced the creation of its four innovation centers last September. Its Boston Innovation Center opening in Cambridge this spring is not to be confused with the Boston Innovation Center that is opening in Boston this spring, operated by the Cambridge Innovation Center. But who could possibly be confused? (The Boston Innovation Center in Boston will be a gathering place for people who work in the Innovation District.)

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