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4 December, 2017 - 16:21 By Tony Quested

Cambridge remains on Johnson & Johnson radar for research hothouse

Cambridge remains on the radar for US Big Pharma corporation Johnson & Johnson as it plans a new global research incubator.

The company has angrily dismissed a national newspaper report that it was pulling the plug on the potential hub because the UK economy was ailing.

A spokesperson told Business Weekly that the company remained committed to finding “the right partner and the right location” and was keeping its options open on where in the world that might be. “That includes Cambridge, Oxford London, Europe and elsewhere – lots of places that have the credentials to host such a venture.

“The annoying thing is that we have never even got to the stage where we have come close to agreeing a partnership in any location – let alone walked away from such a commitment.”

Johnson & Johnson’s incubators traditionally hothouse up to 50 small businesses developing new pharmaceutical solutions and cover a broad range of disease areas.

Johnson & Johnson Innovation already has roots in the Cambridge BioMedTech cluster. In December 2013 it opened a partnering office on the Babraham Research Campus. It formed part of a network of partnering offices across UK clusters as part of a broader strategy to interact more directly with life science ‘hotspots’ throughout this country and Europe.

Johnson & Johnson said the network of offices would function as extensions of its London Innovation Centre to work with academics and entrepreneurs throughout the UK to identify early stage innovation and support the translation of research into new products for patients.

And in March 2015, Johnson & Johnson company Janssen Research & Development paid an undisclosed but apparently substantial sum to acquire Cambridge startup XO1, founded to commercialise a ‘miracle’ antibody and a prime catch under CEO Richard Mason.

The founders described the antibody – ichorcumab  – as “the blood of the gods” and a “one in a billion” medical breakthrough, comparing it to Fleming’s discovery of penicillin 85 years ago.

The novel anticoagulant has the potential to prevent heart attack and stroke without causing bleeding.

Dr Trevor Baglin and Professor Jim Huntington, who pioneered the breakthrough, put it down to a mix of science and serendipity – summoning the spirit of Fleming and Crick & Watson who discovered the structure of DNA 60 years ago with luck on their side.

The chance discovery came when Dr Baglin was fighting to save the life of a woman admitted to Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge in 2008 with potentially fatal head injuries and symptoms consistent with severe haemophilia.

To the medic’s amazement the bleeding stopped and Dr Baglin observed that the phenomenon was down to an antibody in the patient’s blood that caused “extraordinary anticoagulation in the absence of bleeding” – preventing lethal clotting.

He called in colleague Professor Huntington at the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research, a world leader in the field, to design a synthetic version of the antibody.

They realised pretty much straight away that they had stumbled on “the holy grail of anticoagulant drugs” and a key weapon in the fight against thrombosis and ensuing heart attacks.

The technology was licensed to the new business by Cambridge Enterprise, the university’s commercialisation arm, and XO1 believes it had already trimmed years off the traditional drug development timeline.

Peter DiBattiste, global development head of cardio-vascular for Janssen Research & Development, said at the time of the acquisition: “Ichorcumab provides an excellent complement to the Janssen cardiovascular portfolio.
“Given Janssen’s leadership in the fields of anticoagulation and biologics, we are well positioned to explore the potential of this next generation anticoagulant.”

• PHOTOGRAPH SHOWS: Babraham Research Campus

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