At the end of last year (so, basically, two weeks ago), the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation announced a joint partnership with the Johnson & Johnson Corporate Office of Science and Technology to help with the discovery and development of drugs to promote beta cell survival. The program will look to fund research at academic centers around the world that could eventually lead to novel new drugs for the prevention and treatment of type 1 diabetes.
Sounds great, but just a moment... isn't JDRF is trying to cure a disease that JNJ profits handsomely from through their many products, including the popular One touch brand of glucose meters? Why yes! This was my first reaction, too, so I looked into it a bit.
According to both sides, there was no concern whatsoever about conflict of interest.
"They are a leader in the diabetes community and we're a leader in healthcare, looking to even further establish ourselves in that arena. We have common interest in helping people with diabetes," says Ernie Knewitz, a PR representative from Johnson and Johnson.
A statement issued from members of JDRF's research team, Dr. Patricia Kilian and Dr. Julia Greenstein, says, "The discussions were initiated by a top level meeting between JNJ Corporate Development and Metabolic units and JDRF Senior Leadership on how to further diabetes research and products to benefit patients."
When asked for comments off the cuff, Drs. Kilian and Greenstein responded that there were "no concerns expressed" about possible clashes: "JNJ' s mission is aligned with JDRF's mission to help patients live better lives. JNJ is a key player in the diabetes market place with pumps and glucose testing, and the company is the world's largest healthcare company with the mission to put the patient first. Thus, there is a meshing of cultures and interests between JDRF and JNJ."
A meshing of cultures? Hmm, I'd like to know how that statement strikes long-time members of JDRF.
In any case, the joint program will solicit grant proposals from academia and medical research foundations for one- or two-year research projects, on research that will focus on promoting the survival and function of beta cells. The grants will be equally funded by the JDRF and JNJ and will be evaluated by a joint committee, with oversight from a Scientific Advisory Board and JDRF volunteers.
JNJ's Knewitz says, "What will come from that could be new drug targets, and then we would partner with the discoverer to develop [the treatments]."
So it seems that Big Pharma may have discovered for itself that a diabetes cure could be profitable. Which of course is exactly what a company putting the patient first is supposed to care about, right?
Needless to say, diabetes research can always use all the help it can get, and it will be interesting to see what kind of new developments emerge from this alliance.
Editor's Note: Read here about all of JDRF's industry partnerships. What's different with JNJ is that they are already making money off diabetes supplies, as opposed to a biotech firm conducting cure research.