ECHOING Shanghai’s ambitious goal to become a global innovation center, Janssen Pharmaceuticals is pledging to leverage the city’s strong foothold in innovation and will continue to work closely with local start-ups, said Ai Hua Ong, Janssen company group chairman with Asia Pacific.

Ai Hua Ong is currently overseeing operations that deliver pharmaceutical innovation in Australia, China, India, Japan, Korea, New Zealand and other Asia Pacific models with deep commitment to customers and patients, strategic insights and a global mindset.

“Shanghai’s aspiration for a global innovation hub has created a positive environment and ecosystem for innovation, and it has attracted talent in multiple industries to come to Shanghai to drive the convergence across multiple scientific disciplines,” she said in an interview with Shanghai Daily.

The Shanghai government has helped to create rich environment and Janssen Pharmaceuticals would continue to seek to drive innovation by leveraging Shanghai as an innovation hub. Historically 50 percent of its medicines have been the result of external collaborations.

“We are staying focused on the highest unmet medical need, identify the best science, whether they’re internal or external ones, and leverage the scale and reach of our global development organizations to develop, file and launch innovative medicines globally,” she said.

Janssen’s Shanghai Discovery Center, which was set up seven years ago, runs research programs on small molecule drug discovery, target validation, biomarker identification, evaluation and validation, as well as phase 0 clinical trials for hepatitis B, lung cancer, and hematologic malignancies.

Ten discovery projects are currently underway, and it aims to deliver one new clinical candidate per year.

Janssen Pharmaceuticals has been at the forefront of deploying novel innovation strategies and forward-looking investment models to enable the discovery of game-changing medicines in China.

With Johnson & Johnson’s incubator platform, Johnson & Johnson Innovation JLABS, set to open in Shanghai in the first half next year, it also hopes to draw from the booming entrepreneurship and innovation in the science and technology fields to work closer with local stakeholders.

The facility will join Janssen’s already strong ecosystem of innovation, and is expected to strengthen its ability to accelerate the development of transformational health care solutions, and it strives to create an environment where scientists as well as digital specialist work under the same roof for the J&J affiliate companies.

Janssen has also been very conscious of a diversified working culture, starting with gender diversity and supportive measures for women’s career.

“We’ve now expanded gender diversity to more about inclusion at the company, besides our support for women’s career, and we want this to be not only the focus of top management but diversity and inclusion at every level, because we want to build an environment for people with a different background to join.”

Janssen first established its operations in China through a manufacturing facility in Xi’an in 1985. They have expanded its presence significantly and today employ more than 2,500 people across its Beijing headquarters, manufacturing site in Xi’an, R&D operations, and expects to launch several innovative medicines in China over the next two years, which covers a range of therapeutic areas with significant unmet need, including treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, HIV and diabetes.

Janssen Pharmaceuticals last year said it has reached a collaboration and worldwide licensing agreement with Legend Biotech to develop, manufacture and commercialize LCAR-B38M, a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell candidate.

“This will be the role model we’ll be looking at for future collaborations and we’ll continue to focus on disease areas with high disease prevalence in the Asia Pacific region such as lung cancer and hepatitis,” Ong said.

China is stepping up incentive measures to attract overseas talent as it seeks to become an international center for science and technology innovation.

The State Council last year also approved Shanghai’s blueprint for becoming a “global city of excellence” by 2035.

Promoting the role of foreign investment and building up Shanghai’s technology and innovation center is also a key step for Shanghai to become a global city of excellence.

Janssen said it also welcomes the multiple recent positive steps taken by the Chinese Government to further open its doors to global investment and foster new models of pharmaceutical innovation.

“We welcome the steps taken by the Chinese government to ensure patients in China gain early access to innovative medicines, including implementation of a Priority Review Pathway, which shortens the approval time for new treatment,” added Ong.

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