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Searching for Innovation Everywhere and Co-creating a Win-win Future

As the Head of the Asia Pacific Innovation Center, one of Johnson & Johnson’s four global innovation centers, Dan Wang is tasked with promoting open innovation in search of the next healthcare breakthrough.

Connecting Johnson & Johnson with the ecosystem. Dan leads her team in collaboration with life science researchers and start-ups within the region to identify promising science and technologies in various stages of development. The innovative products and business models that Dan and her team bring in strengthen the global product pipelines of the company, while they search for the next healthcare breakthroughs that have the potential to benefit patients and consumers.

Dan Wang

Innovation, collaboration and sharing are the three keywords that best summarize the work of Dan Wang, regardless of where the next world-changing innovative breakthrough may come from.

Q&A:

1. During the recently concluded 3rd China International Import Expo (CIIE), Johnson & Johnson Innovation announced three latest collaboration achievements, showing a strong momentum despite the challenges of COVID-19. How will Johnson & Johnson Innovation leverage its strengths to drive more breakthroughs with collaboration?

We have a relentless belief that innovation is no longer limited to a specific country or region. Disruptive innovation can come from any corner of the world. I am very proud of my team, who has demonstrated elevated morale and teamwork against the sudden outbreak of COVID-19, for delivering marvelous work beyond expectations.

Structure-wise, Johnson & Johnson Innovation has established the Asia Pacific Innovation Center, JLABS @ Shanghai, JJDC, Lung Cancer Initiative (LCI) and the World Without Disease Accelerator in China, which all work closely with Johnson & Johnson R&D teams across different sectors to incubate and accelerate early innovation. Each with their own roles, these teams complement each other well.

The three distinctive projects presented at the CIIE are the best examples of such collaboration. The three respective projects are an AI application for efficient drug discovery, an AI solution for the detection of lung cancer, and an innovative medical solution for sports injury. They shed light on how we tailor our collaboration models for strategic partners across different stages of development and with different needs.

2. Despite a challenging year, the Chinese healthcare ecosystem is still bucking the trend with positive growth. What do you think are the reasons and drivers behind this?

The life science industry in China has not only braved through the pandemic, but it has also shown a burst of vibrant growth which I think can be attributed to the following reasons:  

First of all, the pandemic has garnered an unprecedented level of attention from the public and the market to the healthcare sector. From January to June 2020, the rising enthusiasm of investors and the surge in market demand for innovative drugs have led to a sharp increase in the number of licensing deals, partnerships and IPOs of local innovative medical companies. In particular, venture capital investment has grown by 30% year over year, while the number of IPOs have risen by as much as 40%[1].

Secondly, COVID-19 did not disrupt the rising trend of R&D of innovative drugs and therapies. With recent years of accelerated growth, the life science industry in China is transforming from the traditional model of “Me too, Me better” into independent innovation with emphasis on quality over quantity. The pandemic has not dampened the progress of this evolving process. In some cutting-edge areas in China such as innovative gene therapy, cell therapy, oncology therapy, AI application in healthcare and new smart healthcare solutions, innovation is still gaining steam, as an internal drive for the industry ahead.

Thirdly, exciting as these digital technologies and new opportunities may be, I am more impressed by the remarkable qualities and caliber that the healthcare industry has shown in a time of crisis. We are doing well by doing good. The whole industry has joined forces with an unprecedented level of collaboration in front of the crisis, giving birth to an increasing number of collaboration projects this year. With an enhanced sense of mission, we have become more open-minded in forging mutually or even multilaterally beneficial partnerships, embracing innovation in a flexible manner to find opportunities from crisis, and developing new drugs and products for patients and consumers.

3. Looking to the future, where do you think the most exciting life science revolutions will come from?

Speaking of the future, I would like to quote what Dr. Bill Hait, Global Head of Johnson & Johnson External Innovation, said in the EBD interview this year: “Tomorrow is Now.” Contemporary healthcare challenges have arisen due to COVID-19, but it has opened up new opportunities for future healthcare, making it infinitely possible for the future to arrive sooner than we thought.

Take smart healthcare as an example. As digital transformation visibly gains speed, an increasing number of patients are receiving medical services through remote healthcare, online healthcare, highly-connected patient communities, personalized diagnosis and treatment, enjoying an easier, earlier and quicker access to consultation, diagnosis and monitoring. Such transformation is shaping the future of healthcare.

The use of medical big data is bound to change the future of our industry, which not only improves the health outcomes for individuals, but also promises to transform the current “disease care” to genuine health care. A new digital model will have a role to play in managing costs, improving quality and optimizing patient experience and visit.

Looking to the future, we anticipate increasing demands from patients for innovative healthcare products and services of high quality. Therefore, the unprecedented partnership with public health organizations and academic institutions, and the pharmaceutical industry-wide collaboration are crucial to the future of healthcare.

4. Sharon Chan, Head of JLABS @ Shanghai, and Jennifer Yang, Head of Lung Cancer Initiative China, and yourself at Johnson & Johnson are all women. What do you think of the power of women leadership in life science?

The Asia Pacific Innovation team members come from different countries and regions. We believe in creating a diverse, inclusive and innovative principle-based team and in fully discovering the best and most unique side of all team members. I think this is what Sharon, Jennifer and I would like to achieve as team leaders.

In recent years, women are playing an increasingly important role in the innovation ecosystem. From university researchers, start-up founders and partners to leaders of venture capital funds and consulting companies, R&D heads in multinational companies and government decision-makers, we are heartened to see female leaders getting more adept at leveraging their strengths and braving through difficult challenges in search of the next breakthrough and innovation for patients and consumers.

5. As a company with a long history, what can we learn from our start-up partners?

As our global CEO Alex Gorsky put it, Johnson & Johnson is a 134-year-old start-up. Innovation is in our DNA and entrepreneurship is our drive.

In China, an increasing number of entrepreneurs, scholars and scientists are devoting themselves to innovating healthcare, but bringing healthcare innovation to market is no easy job. Entrepreneurs and start-ups will need to carefully think through their capital, product commercialization, regulations, the size of their teams and many more aspects, while being equipped with an international vision.

We have learned from our start-up partners their ambition, hard work and boldness – not afraid of failures and not hesitating to win -- their nimble responses and quick reactions to new opportunities and challenges, their open-mindedness in cooperation and their teamwork spirit.

This is why we launched the EXPAND project this year, so that we can be empowered by innovation and create opportunities for our talents to truly integrate into the innovation ecosystem. After 6 months of hands-on training in a start-up, they will bring back the essence of entrepreneurship, ready to create the next disruptive innovation.

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[1] Special Report for ChinaBio 2020