In Conversation with Sally Allain

In Conversation: Sally Allain, Head, JLABS @ Washington, DC – Johnson & Johnson Innovation

BioBuzz recently caught up with the Head of JLABS @ Washington, DC, Sally Allain, to discuss her growing, local team, what it’s like to be back home in the BioHealth Capital Region (BHCR) and how JLABS plans to support regional start-ups and entrepreneurs by connecting them to the Johnson & Johnson global network of experts, mentors, and programming.

JLABS is part of Johnson & Johnson Innovation, whose goal is to accelerate life science innovation worldwide to solve unmet medical and healthcare needs for patients. This innovation model provides scientists, entrepreneurs, and emerging companies with one-stop access to science and technology experts who can facilitate collaborations across the pharmaceutical, medical device and consumer companies of Johnson & Johnson. JLABS is the “no strings attached” incubator program for early-stage biotech companies that is now part of the BHCR ecosystem. 

This incubator network helps emerging companies grow by bringing the power of Johnson & Johnson’s 250 operating companies and over 130,000 employees from 175 countries around the world to an entrepreneur’s doorstep. Since opening its flagship site in San Diego in 2012, Johnson & Johnson Innovation JLABS now includes 13 global sites and over 650 portfolio companies.

JLABS @ Washington, DC will be located within a redevelopment of 12 acres on the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center property. The new facility, which is currently under construction, is embedded within the new Children’s National Research and Innovation Campus. JLABS @ Washington, DC will host up to 50 companies within its 32,000 square foot facility. 

It has been just over a year since the opening of JLABS @ Washington, DC was publicly announced. What has it been like getting to know the local biohealth community and what have you learned about this ecosystem?

I am originally from the DC metro area and studied at Virginia Tech, so it is great to be back in the region after spending time in California and internationally working within those life science hubs. Over the past several months, we’ve been meeting with the local leaders within industry, government, research and academic institutions and medical centers across the DMV. Making these connections and having a close-up look into the region’s innovators is inspiring.

The research strengths and scientific expertise within the DMV are incredible. It is why Johnson & Johnson Innovation brought JLABS here – to be more closely connected to and support this rich ecosystem that is poised to further accelerate healthcare innovation.

We have a very good feel for how JLABS @ Washington, DC can best partner to move science and technology forward in the region and we’ve already begun!

What are some key observations from the conversations you’ve had with regional startups and entrepreneurs over the last year?

I’ve heard a lot about the need for getting more capital investment into the region and also the need to highlight the wealth of opportunities we have right here. Our team has talked with many startups and entrepreneurs over the last year and we have identified areas where we can help fill the gaps that may have been stalling progress or hindering a more rapid introduction of new healthcare solutions to market.

Pediatric device innovation is one of those urgent areas of need. A recent FDA Report to Congress cited that over the past decade, only 24 percent of medical device approvals have had a pediatric indication. This is unacceptable. The unique characteristics of babies and children often require devices tailored specifically for them. We can do better to foster innovations tailored specifically to meet their needs.

We have joined forces with our partner, Children’s National Hospital, to help shed a light on how important innovation in this area is and how much opportunity there is for companies in the region. Children’s National is at the forefront of pediatric device innovation and through its leadership of the FDA-funded National Capital Consortium for Pediatric Device Innovation with the University of Maryland, and other partners across the region, the consortium is contributing to national efforts to pioneer new research and advance the field.

Is everything still on track for the anticipated JLABS @ Washington, DC opening? What are some things that you and your team are doing to engage with the region leading up to the launch?

Yes, construction is on schedule. We anticipate taking occupancy of the building late this year and will onboard companies in early 2021.

Leading up to our official opening, we have been making and taking every opportunity to connect with individuals and engage with the community. Before the COVID-19 outbreak, we were holding in-person events in the DC area to meet face-to-face with startups, regional leaders, and partners. Our team moved quickly to transition all of our JLABS events into a robust webinar series overnight to ensure we could stay connected and still engage in these online forums.

Now anyone can access any one of our programs from any of our global JLABS sites. Our webinars bring together experts to help entrepreneurs and startups navigate the process of launching a new company, as well as thought leaders on important scientific topics.

In another interview, you once gave the advice: ”You need to remember that it’s a marathon at times and not just a sprint.” How relevant is that advice to entrepreneurs trying to launch during a pandemic situation, and what other advice would you have for them?

This period of time can be a series of sprints for entrepreneurs who are pivoting to respond to the current challenge, while maintaining a marathon-like focus. I’m seeing many entrepreneurs responding in real time, whether that’s using their science or technology to respond to COVID-19 or tailoring their marketing plans with the aim to adapt to the new environment or moving into a marketspace earlier than they had anticipated. Some are also having to make tough cost-cutting decisions to navigate a longer road toward commercialization.

I would tell entrepreneurs to continue to stay positive. Reach out to biotech and biohealth agencies, or trade associations in your state, to see how they could support and assist you. Research the unique funding mechanisms that may now be available. And, between the sprints that turn into a marathon, take time to recoup and re-energize, as the next startup sprint can be just around the corner.

I’ve had the chance to talk to a couple of CEOs in the DMV, and although they saw investors pause at the beginning of the pandemic, they are now coming back to the table for discussions. Now, more than ever, we need to continue to do all we can with the aim to foster medical innovation.

How can entrepreneurs, startups, and innovators get involved with JLABS @ Washington, DC, and what is your message to anyone thinking of applying?

We are looking for the best and brightest innovators in science and technology. The JLABS @ Washington, DC site is open to pharmaceutical, medical device, consumer and health technology companies that are aiming to advance the development of new drugs, medical devices, precision diagnostics and health technologies, including applications in pediatrics.

I encourage interested companies to apply via our open, rolling application process. It’s a simple online application with the submission of non-confidential information. We are currently accepting applications to become a resident company at http://apply.jlabs.jnjinnovation.com/.

I’d also encourage anyone to join our webinar series and get connected with the events we have ongoing with experts and leading stakeholders in the region.

For more information about JLABS @ Washington, DC please visit us at https://jlabs.jnjinnovation.com/locations/jlabs-washington-dc

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Steven Surdez

Steven Surdez

Principal at StoryCore
Steve has over 20 years experience in copywriting, developing brand messaging and creating marketing strategies across a wide range of industries, including the biopharmaceutical, senior living, commercial real estate, IT and renewable energy sectors, among others. He is currently the Principal/Owner of StoryCore, a Frederick, Maryland-based content creation and execution consultancy focused on telling the unique stories of Maryland organizations.

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