Johnson & Johnson raises a flag in early-stage lung cancer with first-ever contest in the field

J&J is targeting lung cancer in its latest QuickFire Innovation Challenge, putting out the word for creative and inventive new ideas. (Johnson & Johnson)

No question about it, the lung cancer field is hot—and chock-full of new drugs and combos. But there's a dearth of treatments specifically for early-stage disease, and Johnson & Johnson is looking to crowdsourcing to bring in new ideas.

It's doing that through its latest QuickFire contest at JLABS, the company's internal life sciences incubator. The winner of the Lung Cancer Innovation QuickFire Challenge will earn a yearlong residency at JLABS @ Shanghai, the newest of its 11 labs around the world.

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The challenge zeroes in on ideas that might "prevent, intercept and cure early-stage lung cancer,” said Avrum Spira, the global head of the initiative for J&J.

"A lot of companies are tackling late stage disease—that’s where most pharmaceutical companies and biotechs are going today," Spira said. "There’s a huge unmet need to go earlier in the disease process if we want to prevent and intercept the disease and catch it at its earliest stage.”

JLABS is tapping companies and people around the world—already it's received U.S., Canada and China hopefuls—in the contest that ends Sept. 21. There may be more than one winner, but the total prize award is $750,000, plus the JLABS @ Shanghai residency, which is optional. Why Shanghai? The country is, as Spira said, “ground zero of the lung cancer epidemic.” Of the 1.6 million deaths caused by lung cancer every year, more than 600,000 occur in China.

Mentoring is also part of the prize, as with all J&J QuickFire Challenges, and the winners will join the J&J network of educational in-person and online opportunities. The winning ideas remain in the winners’ possession, but J&J will help mentor and shepherd them along the way to market.

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J&J has run QuickFire challenges for more than five years, accumulating hundreds of external partners across a swath of disease states and healthcare industry challenges.

“One of the reasons we started QuickFire challenges is it’s a way to crowdsource innovative tech and solutions out there and catalyze researcher, academics, technology and entrepreneurs to really think about technologies,” said Erika Kula, director, sourcing innovation for JLABS, adding, "It’s not just an opportunity for us to foster innovation, but also to let the market know that J&J is here to play in a particular area.”