Could J&J get an image boost from new health-oriented research?

Continuing to move on its promise of shifting focus from "disease care to healthcare," Johnson & Johnson's pharma unit Janssen is beefing up its Disease Interception Accelerator prediction-and-prevention effort.

The group, a dedicated unit inside Janssen that launched last February, added two new disease research projects in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and gestational diabetes, pushing its total to 24 collaborations in its DIA pipeline.

Innovation, while often an overused word across many industries, is nevertheless often called an important intangible asset. In pharma, innovation is closely connected to corporate reputation, said Tina Fascetti, chief creative officer at Guidemark Health. Consumers believe that pharma has a greater obligation to society than nonhealthcare companies, and they want to see pharma act altruistically, she said via email.

The reputation opportunity for pharma, then, is to show society its internal innovations at work for the greater good.

Guidemark Health chief creative officer Tina Fascetti

"Janssen's Disease Interception Accelerator initiative is an excellent example of an innovation program that addresses the perception deficit beleaguering pharmaceutical companies," she said. "By prioritizing disease prevention and pre-emption over diagnosis and treatment, the DIA gives the public reason to believe Janssen's motivation is to serve the greater good, and not just drive financial performance."

Janssen is not alone in its setting up innovation centers and collaborations in the past few years, which, along with bolstering corporate reputation, can create new paths to market with their treatments.

FierceBiotech reported that the areas of research inside DIA are chosen for high unmet needs as well as their fit with Janssen research expertise--even though the end result may not always be a new drug or medical device. But even J&J ($JNJ) isn't exactly sure how the path to market will emerge.

"As many of our efforts and collaborations are rooted in early science, it's a premature to speculate on how a solution might be brought to market or commercialized at this time. However, we're excited about such future prospects and leveraging global Janssen/J&J capabilities as the DIA efforts progress," a Janssen spokesman said via email.

Gil Bashe, managing partner of the health practice at Finn Partners noted the larger pharma view.

"Beyond Janssen, this is a phenomenon happening throughout the pharmaceutical industry right now. These types of units are being created as a way of amplifying out what a company is doing to support biomedical innovation." He pointed out different takes, such as Merck's ($MRK) global innovation health fund, the American Heart Association's "One Brave Idea" collaboration with Verily and AstraZeneca ($AZN), and even the White House's $1 billion cancer moonshot initiative.

"The Janssen example is fascinating because it acknowledges, and like these many other efforts acknowledge, that the big secret ingredient in drug discovery is collaboration," Bashe said, going on to add, "It is bringing the interest of separate departments--investment, business development and pipeline research--and brings those assets together as a way of doing well by doing good."

- see the Janssen press release
- read the FierceBiotech story

Editor's Note: A previous version of the story misstated the name of the DIA program. It is Disease Interception Accelerator, not Disease Innovation Accelerator.