To kick off a busy innovation week in Singapore as the SWITCH festival starts today, I joined “Ecosystem Day”, and got an overview of Johnson & Johnson Innovation’s rather advanced innovation strategy in APAC. I knew Johnson & Johnson on their customer-facing side, but did not really know much about their product-building innovation engine.



Johnson & Johnson’s innovation ecosystem


A few points from the keynotes I followed:

#1 Large companies such as Johnson & Johnson increasingly innovate with smaller, more local actors

Melinda Richter, Global Head of Johnson & Johnson Innovation, JLABS, shared that Johnson & Johnson used to partner mostly with other large companies before. Today, local needs demand a different type of collaboration, explained by the three-pronged strategy of Johnson & Johnson:

  1. JLABS
  2. Innovation Centers
  3. JJDC (investments)

Dong Wu, who heads the Asia-Pacific Innovation Center for Johnson & Johnson, explained that even though Johnson & Johnson invests roughly 9bn$/y globally in R&D, they can’t cover all, or form a new team for any new trend or discovery. Hence they actively search for external innovators such as universities or startups.

He also added that one of the values of a large company investing early in startups is to help them make the right choice: “science startups can take years on a single focus, which may or may not be relevant. By jumping in as early as we can, we can help them pivot if need be and find a commercial output for research that might otherwise have remained outside of the market”.



The three pillars of J&J’s strategy to support innovation


The baseline is to take the best of Johnson & Johnson Innovation’s R&D teams, and innovators from different ecosystems and partner with them and create new products.

Lots of new products come from external innovation. Before, Johnson & Johnson used to partner with large companies, but now they understand the need to innovate at an early stage with local companies and foster an ecosystem of our R&D teams and the best innovators.

#2 An Ageing Asia is a field of challenges & opportunities for healthcare companies

While the world’s population is ageing, this phenomenon is most noticeable in Asia-Pacific. The region will have 844m people over 60 by 2030, with China and Japan contributing the most to that trend.

More diseases develop with age, such as cancers, mental illness and diabetes.



World map of population ageing rates



Cancer and chronic diseases figures in Asia


Dong Wu also added that Asia will soon produce more patents in healthcare than any other region of the world.

#3 Asia-Pac countries have different strengths and weaknesses when it comes to healthcare innovation

I came for Dong Wu’s keynote on Asia-Pac’s innovation ecosystem, and found his knowledge and experience of different countries provides many insights into the biggest innovators in the region:



Patent applications figures


  • China: The country has strong traction in healthcare due to the overseas returnees effect (PhD, MDs) who come back to China to study and work in local universities and startups. Regulations on healthcare are easing and the quality of biotech startups increases all the time.
  • South Korea: It has great universities and education, young CEOs and many small biotech companies (<5pax). 580 such companies were identified, a great signal of a dynamic ecosystem.
  • Japan: The country has always been strong in science with 22 Nobel prizes to its name, but there are challenges in the translation to commercial product due to lack of entrepreneurs.
  • India: They push commercial partners to open incubation in different cities. There are few discoveries in drugs and devices, but as an investor, it’s easier with less screening. There are also better startups than in the China’s jungle of thousands, many of them sub-par.
  • Singapore: There is great support from the government, and the wealth of the ecosystem is with key universities, scientists and entrepreneurs at an arm’s reach.

#4 Singapore as a rising scene for healthcare innovation

Philip Lim, Chief Executive Officer at ETPL, shared that 10% of Singaporeans have a metabolic disease, and more than 30% of seniors are over 80 years old. His assessment of Singapore is as follows:

  • There is a rising standard of local universities, with both NUS and NTU reaching the top 50 rankings globally.
  • There are 46,000 knowledge workers in science, research and startups in Singapore
  • There is still a small Venture Capital scene in the country, but it shows fast growth.



Different financing methods at each stage of a startup’s growth


#5 Winning innovators at the Johnson & Johnson Innovation QuickFire Challenge in Singapore

To wrap-up, here are the three winners of the Johnson & Johnson Innovation Singapore QuickFire Challenge – Metabolic Disease Innovation:

Pharmaceutical sector: Nanyang Technological University (based in Singapore), led by Dr. Harshyaa Makhija, Research Fellow, and Prof. Peter Droge. Their solution to improve outcome and decelerate progression among patients with Wilson’s disease.

Consumer Health: PreventAGE Health Care (based in New Hampshire, U.S.A.), led by Paul Beisswenger, M.D., CSO and Mark Carvlin, Ph.D., President and COO. They employ precision bioanalytical techniques, predictive analytics, and proprietary algorithms to alert patients with diabetes to their personal risk for developing specific complications.



Medopad’s team receiving their award


Medical Devices: Medopad (based in London), led by co-founders Dan Vahdat, Ph.D. and Rich Khatib, Ph.D. It is a CE-marked patient-monitoring software solution company which uses modular care-monitoring tools, vital data tracking, and real-time AI analytics to provide patients the ability to record their wellness in real time.