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Learning how to dance in the rain: Reflecting on my first six months at the helm of Johnson & Johnson Innovation EMEA

I’m always up for a challenge. One of my favourite quotes, from Vivian Greene, is: ‘Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning how to dance in the rain’. But taking up my new role as Head of Johnson & Johnson Innovation EMEA during the midst of a pandemic has been a learning curve like no other: both in terms of the new role and also in adapting to new home-working styles while partnering and accelerating critical innovation. Whether it’s the impact of “Zooming” through the day, or the momentum to deliver a COVID-19 vaccine has generated, there’s action and urgency at every turn. This continues to be an exhilarating ongoing journey, but it’s also important to pause and reflect on the momentous last six months.

As our “new normal” becomes our “normal”, I’ve been thinking about one of the key topics that has been coming up again and again during our virtual meetings: namely, the adaptation we have seen over the past few months within the biotech and healthcare industry and the pivot to increasing inclusion of digital and data in our healthcare world.

The ability of our industry and all our partners to collaborate, adapt to and step up in the face of adversity has been an endless inspiration to me. I think it’s important to reflect on how quickly the entire pharmaceutical and bioscience research industry has shifted. We shouldn’t forget the incredible effort it takes is to learn about a virus from ground zero, let alone be developing a potential vaccine months later for global production. When you think about the diseases that have been researched for decades in pursuit of a treatment or cure, it’s awe-inspiring progress.

I see how this has the potential to drive change in the broader healthcare landscape for Johnson & Johnson Innovation EMEA, where partnerships are at the heart of what we do: finding ways to support others to bring their research to market and to reduce the time, complexity and the cost of getting there. Not only has this pandemic seen a rise in partnerships and collaborative research – both among established pharmaceutical companies and rising stars establishing themselves in the industry – but also in the ways we advance opportunities. We’re now looking at significant changes to how we connect to patients, payors and physicians – using technology and data sciences, for example, to enable clinical trial processes that could bring much-needed treatments to those specific patients that can benefit – and demonstrating that improvement.

I’m excited to share a very recent collaboration as a great example of how critical the work we all do is, and how we have the unique opportunity to make profound differences to people’s lives: Janssen and Koa Health, a digital mental healthcare spinout company offering a range of digital mental health solutions, have agreed an innovative research collaboration. Looking at treatment-resistant major depressive disorder patients, scientists from both companies will together try to answer the question – what if we can use a therapeutic pharmaceutical treatment in combination with a digital therapeutic to improve outcomes in this difficult-to-treat patient population?

The need to work remotely has also changed how patients interact with healthcare professionals, including video consultations and home delivery of medicines. How we establish and conduct clinical trials has also changed, with everything from recruitment to monitoring being enabled digitally and remotely. In some cases, we have more and even better data being collected than could have been in the past. If all the participants in the healthcare industry – inventors, payors, regulators, patients and physicians can help refresh the way we approach research and development, we can drive better medicines to patients, faster, and focus harder on keeping people well, carefully monitoring those at higher risk and anticipating and intervening early when relapses or episodes are triggered. The data and technology that we have sought out to help us this year can lead us all to a much better healthcare future, and we need to think hard about how this innovation is integrated and valued in everything from disease prevention to healthy aging.

So whilst my first six months as the Head of Johnson & Johnson Innovation EMEA have not been what I might have expected them to be in a non-COVID era, we are definitely learning how to dance in the rain. And, as a strong pipeline of partners working with us can attest, so are many in our industry.