Accelerating Innovation in Healthcare Through Collaboration
Sharon Chan, Head of JLABS Asia Pacific, Johnson & Johnson
1. Sharon, with your extensive and international background in the healthcare industry, what motivated your move big pharma?
I have been involved in the healthcare industry for 22 years. My love of science drove me to pursue degrees in molecular and cellular biochemistry, as well as a PhD in cardiovascular medicine. Prior to joining Johnson & Johnson Innovation, I had initially served as Head of China at Aeras, a nonprofit biotech dedicated to the development of effective vaccines and biologics for tuberculosis launched in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, before being promoted to Head of Asia. My role at Aeras was quite an entrepreneurial one: to build a presence for the organization in China, based in Beijing. After five years or so with the organization, during which I worked with governments, academics, patients, clinicians, other non-profits and even high-net worth individuals, I came to realize that if we were ever to launch a product against tuberculosis – if we really wanted to make medicines more affordable and accessible and save lives – we needed a partner in industry. This is what brought me back to a big pharma organization like The Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies (Johnson & Johnson) and why I decided to accept the position to become Head of Johnson & Johnson Innovation – JLABS (JLABS) Asia Pacific.
2. How do you see that Covid-19 has transformed the healthcare industry?
The pandemic has highlighted the importance of health and well-being more than ever before. The need for high-quality healthcare solutions and products is soaring, and there is an opportunity to reposition healthcare as we know it to become more about preventing, intercepting and curing diseases, rather than just managing them. There has never been more opportunity for collaboration as there is right now. New levels of partnership with public health organizations and academic institutions, as well as collaboration across the pharmaceutical industry, were crucial in addressing this global pandemic and in many ways, have revolutionized our way of working together, allowing us to identify new potential solutions and implement innovative ways of working, collectively as an industry. We have already seen how companies large and small have become more open to collaboration in the face of the pandemic, including other areas where there is arguably a future public health threat. While the pandemic has brought with it many challenges, the silver lining is that it’s helping to transform healthcare as we know it. It’s an exciting time for the innovation ecosystem and opportunity is everywhere.
3. You mention the acceleration of digital health. With the merging between biotech and tech, in your opinion, what does the future of healthcare look like?
Over the last few years, we have seen disruptive technologies emerging around the world, driven by the merger of traditional pharma and big tech to meet the growing needs of patients in the post-pandemic world. Multidisciplinary scientific and technological innovation is expanding the frontier of what is possible with human health, and start-ups are leading the charge in pursuing exciting new areas of science such as AI, data science, regenerative medicine, 3-D printing, gene therapy, microbiome science and robotics. At JLABS, we are able to see this new chapter in digital health through the innovations that some of our resident companies are working on, such as: Us2.ai, a fast-growing medtech business seeking to improve patient outcomes and expand healthcare access using AI tools to democratize echo, the most commonly used tool for detection of heart risk. And iXensor, a JLABS company focused on developing a revolutionary digital diagnostic platform solution for better patient-centric healthcare. It has developed a smart color sensing technology for connected healthcare, with the aim of turning almost any smartphones into diagnostic instruments for immunochromatographic assays ranging from infectious diseases, chronic diseases to women's health, with clinical accuracy. These trends provide a unique opportunity for forward-thinking start-ups like these to transform the way we receive care and truly change the trajectory of health for humanity.
4. What role do you see big data playing as part of this healthcare transformation?
We all know how closely data is tied with innovation, and we’ve seen it in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the last three years, data has allowed innovators to make scientific advances in the research and development of vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics, and in the distribution and execution of inoculation – all at an unprecedented speed. It was also the guiding force for many of our JLABS portfolio companies to quickly pivot to address the pandemic and to do so with success. In addition, it was vital in helping to inform each other and our populations of the transmissibility of the virus. It guided governments in their decision-making on testing, tracking and quarantining, so that we could contain the spread of the disease and prevent deaths from a disease that has since cost the world a huge socio-economic loss. Going forward, data will play an even more vital role in helping us to combat and prepare against possible future health threats given time is of the essence with public health challenges.