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Johnson & Johnson to open office in Kendall Square

Johnson & Johnson is coming to Kendall Square in Cambridge.

One of the last big pharmaceutical companies without an outpost in the life sciences hub is remedying that oversight, with plans to open an office at One Cambridge Center this spring.

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J&J’s Boston Innovation Center will be run by Robert Urban, a one-time biotechnology entrepreneur who was most recently director of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT.

Urban, who started at J&J in early November, is already managing a group of more than 20 employees — both new hires and Johnson & Johnson veterans who are relocating to the area.

They are working in temporary office space in the Back Bay.

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New Jersey-based J&J, maker of Band-Aids and baby shampoo among many other products, is the second-biggest pharmaceutical company in the United States by revenue, just behind Pfizer.

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.

It will also make investments in start-ups.

Even before the establishment of the Boston Innovation Center, J&J has worked with Massachusetts Institute of Technology and local companies such as 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 Friday.

The Boston Innovation Center will be staffed with: technical specialists — in areas such as neuroscience, oncology, and vaccines — who can evaluate prospective partnerships; a team to craft contracts and then manage those partnerships; and investors from thwe company’s corporate venture capital arm.

Urban said setting up a research-and-development lab in Cambridge is not 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 does not involve establishing a “substantial physical research footprint here,” he said.

Urban said about 65 percent of the Boston Innovation Center team is made up of Johnson & Johnson employees, including finance director Salvatore Giovine.

Others have been brought in from outside companies, such as vice president of oncology scientific innovation Pamela Carroll, who came from Roche Pharmaceuticals.

Scott Kirsner can be reached at scottkirsner@gmail.com
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