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Janssen Disease Interception Unit Advances a Growing Venture Portfolio Focused on the Intercepting Diseases Prior to Onset


22 Mar 2016


Health & Consumers
Science & Policymaking

24 global collaborations established within the first year include new partnerships with Boston University School of Medicine and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research in Singapore

Raritan, NJ, March 22, 2016 – Janssen Research & Development, LLC (Janssen) announced today two new research agreements established through its Disease Interception Accelerator (DIA), a research unit focused on the prediction and preemption of diseases.  Research alliances with Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM), aimed at identifying disease pathways associated with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) in Singapore, focused on the identification of biomarkers in Gestational Diabetes Mellitus (GDM), mark the most recent of 24 total collaborations the DIA has initiated since its inception in February 2015.  Through internal Janssen expertise and global partnerships, DIA scientists seek to integrate innovative science, novel therapeutics, precision diagnostics and new business models to address susceptibility to disease, and create solutions to intervene earlier and inhibit progression to disease.

“We are excited about the tremendous progress in implementing our venture strategies during our first year of operation, focusing on disease areas with high unmet need and unique interception opportunities,” said Ben Wiegand, Ph.D., Head, DIA, Janssen Research & Development, LLC.  “Partnerships, like those we have forged with Boston University School of Medicine and A*STAR today, provide critical access to expertise at leading global scientific centers, and advance our research to realize disease interception as a viable strategy to achieving better health for future generations.”

In addition to GDM and COPD, the DIA has established ventures in Type 1 Diabetes, Presbyopia/Cataracts, Oral Cavity & Oropharyngeal Cancer/Cervical Cancer and Perinatal Depression.  Each venture has been selected based upon high unmet need, deep Janssen expertise and understanding of emerging science, and the potential for broader cross-disease applications for scientific learnings.  The DIA is harnessing cutting-edge science and technology, both internally and externally, through partnerships and ongoing exploration of new collaborations with Johnson & Johnson Innovation. 

Recent Collaborations/Partnerships in DIA Focus (Venture) Areas:

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

COPD refers to a group of diseases, including emphysema and chronic bronchitis, and is the third leading cause of death worldwide.[1],[2]  The COPD Venture team aims to pinpoint individuals at risk and in the earliest stages of disease using radiology and molecular biomarkers and intervene therapeutically to stop the destruction of small airways in the lung, which lead to COPD. 

Recent collaborations:

  • BUSM (U.S.) ‒ analyze data from the Detection of Early Lung Cancer Among Military Personnel (DECAMP) consortium, a multidisciplinary translational research program, in order to identify biomarkers to predict progression to COPD and lung cancer
  • University of British Columbia (Canada) and BUSM ‒ identify new therapies and therapeutic targets that can reverse or stop the progression of COPD-related lung pathologies

Gestational Diabetes Mellitus (GDM)

GDM is diagnosed when carbohydrate intolerance (hyperglycemia) is developed or recognized during pregnancy for the first time.  Consequences for mother and child can be severe and include increased risks of birth trauma, jaundice, respiratory distress syndrome, macrosomia, cesarean section, and maternal hypertensive disorder.[3]  Longer term, 30-50 percent of women with GDM develop type 2 diabetes (T2D) and children have an increased risk of obesity and T2D, as well as asthma and behavioral disorders.[4]  Using biomarkers to segment the population at high risk, the GDM Venture team is focused on developing disease interception solutions that address the root causes of GDM.

Recent collaborations:

  • A*STAR (Singapore) ‒ two grants to isolate biomarkers for identifying women at risk of developing GDM using metabolome and methylome (epigenetics) analysis
  • MiRXES Pte Ltd, an A*STAR spin-off company (Singapore) ‒ examine potential plasma biomarkers for insulin resistance using MicroRNA profiling to develop novel methodologies for determining insulin sensitivity

Type 1 Diabetes (T1D)

Years before clinical onset of disease, early signals are present of T1D, a chronic condition where the pancreas produces little or no insulin, the hormone that regulates sugar in the blood.  As T1D is on the rise globally, with diagnoses increasing 3-5 percent a year, the T1D Venture team is focused on profiling genetic risk at birth and tracking biomarkers in childhood to identify interception windows and research tools to intervene.[5]   

Recent collaborations:

  • Meso Scale Discovery (U.S.) ‒ identify the presence of autoantibodies to islet proteins with an objective of developing a highly sensitive assay that can detect the presence of the most commonly assessed autoantibodies using a small volume of blood
  • University of California, San Francisco (U.S.) ‒ understand early events in the development of the insulin-producing beta cell and how such events might influence the initiation of T1D
  • JDRF (U.S.) ‒  support the University of Tampere (Finland) in studies aimed at understanding the role of viruses in initiating T1D in individuals


Presbyopia, the gradual loss of near vision due to stiffening of the ocular lens, affects more than 100 million adults over the age of 40 in the U.S., while the formation of cataracts, the clouding of the lens, remains the leading cause of blindness worldwide.[6],[7]  The Presbyopia/Cataracts Venture team is researching methods to intercept the disease pathways of presbyopia and cataracts with the ultimate goal of improving visual acuity.   

Recent collaborations:

  • University of Massachusetts (U.S.) ‒ develop new in vitro/in vivo measurement techniques
  • University of Nottingham (U.K.) ‒ high throughput screening of next-generation lead candidates

Oral Cavity & Oropharyngeal Cancer/Cervical Cancer

Oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancers, malignancies of the mouth, lips and the top of the throat,   together, constituted the sixth most common cancer worldwide in 2009, with an estimated 500,000 cases around the globe.[8]  In addition, cervical cancer, malignancy at the entrance of the uterus, was the fourth most commonly diagnosed cancer in women in 2012, with an estimated 527,600 new cases worldwide.[9]  The aim of the Oral Cavity & Oropharyngeal Cancer/Cervical Cancer Venture is to identify and preempt disease progression in people with an increased risk for these diseases caused by human papillomaviruses (HPV) and carcinogen-driven oral malignancies.

Recent collaborations:

  • Bavarian Nordic (Denmark) ‒ develop a viral-based therapeutic HPV vaccine
  • UbiVac (U.S.) ‒ develop a dendritic cell-targeted microvesicle vaccine specific for non-HPV oral cancer
  • InCellDx (U.S.) ‒ optimize an HPV test to detect women at risk for cervical cancer early in the disease cascade
  • QUT (Australia) ‒ investigate HPV-driven oropharyngeal cancer to find novel biomarkers for early disease stages

Perinatal Depression

The World Health Organization has declared maternal mental health disorders a major public health challenge.  Of particular concern is perinatal depression, an episode of major depressive disorder during pregnancy or within six months postpartum, which has a lifetime prevalence of 10-15 percent.[10]  The Perinatal Depression Venture team is striving to improve the mental health of mothers and their offspring by establishing screening methods to identify, profile and track at-risk women in order to intercept the disease prior to impact on both the mother and infant.

Recent collaborations:

  • BabyCenter, the #1 pregnancy and parenting digital destination worldwide ‒ launch a longitudinal survey of pregnant women to track prodromal predictors of perinatal depression and the course of the condition from conception through postpartum
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (U.S.) ‒ develop a longitudinal study of women seeking maternal healthcare at UNC, looking for predictors of antenatal and postpartum onset of perinatal depression

About the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson

At Janssen, we are dedicated to addressing and solving some of the most important unmet medical needs of our time in oncology, immunology, neuroscience, infectious diseases and vaccines, and cardiovascular and metabolic diseases.  Driven by our commitment to patients, we develop innovative products, services and healthcare solutions to help people with serious diseases throughout the world.  Beyond its innovative medicines, Janssen is at the forefront of developing education and public policy initiatives to ensure patients and their families, caregivers, advocates and healthcare professionals have access to the latest treatment information, support services and quality care.

Janssen Research & Development, LLC is one of the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson.  Please visit for more information.  Follow us on Twitter at

About Johnson & Johnson Innovation

Johnson & Johnson Innovation LLC is working to accelerate scientific innovation at all stages of development worldwide to deliver cutting-edge solutions that solve unmet needs for patients. Johnson & Johnson Innovation provides scientists, entrepreneurs and emerging companies with one-stop access to the broad resources of the Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies across the Pharmaceutical, Medical Devices and Consumer healthcare segments. This includes access to dealmakers, through the innovation centers located in global life science hot spots and Johnson & Johnson Innovation – Janssen Business Development; venture investment, through Johnson & Johnson Innovation – JJDC; company incubation, through Johnson & Johnson Innovation, JLABS; as well as R&D, manufacturing and commercialization expertise across all three segments. For more information, visit or follow @JNJInnovation.



[1] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. Accessed February 2016.

[2] World Health Organization. The top 10 causes of death. Accessed February 2016.

[3] Shin NR, et al. A Korean multicenter study of prenatal risk factors for overt diabetes during the postpartum period after gestational diabetes mellitus. Int J Gynaecol Obstet. 2016 Mar;132(3):342-6. doi: 10.1016/j.ijgo.2015.07.031. Epub 2015 Nov 26.

[4] Pettitt DJ, et al. Diabetes and obesity in the offspring of Pima Indian women with diabetes during pregnancy. Diabetes Care. 1993 Jan;16(1):310-4.

[5] McKenna M. Diabetes Mystery: Why Are Type 1 Diabetes Cases Surging? Scientific American. February, 2012.

[6] American Optometric Association. Optometric Clinical Practice Guideline Care of the Patient with Presbyopia. 2011. Accessed February 2016.

[7] World Health Organization. Priority eye diseases. Accessed March 2016.

[8] Warnakulasuriya S. Global epidemiology of oral and oropharyngeal cancer. Oral Oncol. 2009 Apr-May;45(4-5):309-16. doi: 10.1016/j.oraloncology.2008.06.002. Epub 2008 Sep 18.

[9] American Cancer Society. Global Facts & Figures 3rd Edition. Accessed February 2016.

[10] Gavin NI, Gaynes BN, Lohr KN, Meltzer-Brody S, Gartlehner G, Swinson T. Perinatal depression: a systematic review of prevalence and incidence. Obstet Gynecol. 2005 Nov;106(5 Pt 1):1071-83.



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