BARDA and JLABS Pick 7 Startups to Battle COVID-19 and Future Pandemics

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Blue Knight is a program created in partnership with Johnson & Johnson Innovation and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA). The idea is to support companies that anticipate “potential health security threats, activating the global innovation community, and amplifying scientific and technological advances with the aim to prepare for and respond to our rapidly evolving global health environment.”

In short, given the world’s current COVID-19 pandemic, Blue Knight is focused on dealing with the next pandemic. As such, they have chosen seven startups from J&J’s global JLABS incubator network to participate. Each will receive up to $500,000 in support, as well as consultation and mentorship from BARDA and J&J.

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“In our fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, we must act with urgency to support the entrepreneurs working on the ‘fragile frontlines’ of innovation,” said Melinda Richter, global head of JLABS. “These pioneers in science and research are working, often with limited resources, to bring the potential healthcare solutions needed today over the finish line, as well as advance the vaccines, technologies and therapies of tomorrow.”

The seven companies chosen are spread across North America and Europe. They include Houston-based 7 Hills Pharma; San Diego’s Persephone Biosciences; New York’s Autonomous Therapeutics; South San Francisco’s Epic Bio; Toronto’s Specific Biologics; Beerse, Belgium-based Genome Biologics; and Beerse, Belgium-based GabiSmartCare.

They have different approaches. Autonomous focuses on prophylactic treatments against coronaviruses, not just COVID-19; Epic Bio is focused on Cas13d enzymes to edit viral RNA sequences, such as in SARS-CoV-2; Specific Biologics is working on a gene editor that uses nanoparticle delivery to attack the viral genome; Genome Biologics is developing a computational platform to identify links between approved drugs and diseases, including COVID-19, then tests the drugs on an organoid platform; GabiSmartCare has developed a remote monitoring system that could potentially identify respiratory problems early or monitor patient recovery from COVID-19; 7 Hills Pharma is working to develop novel and cost-efficient immunomodulatory agents for cancer and COVID-19 vaccines; Persephone is developing a microbiome treatment to decrease the risk of infections or potentially improve vaccine effectiveness.

“Our preparedness and response to emerging public health threats as well as existing debilitating diseases requires new, transformational approaches,” said William Hait, global head of Johnson & Johnson Innovation. “Through Blue Knight, jointly with BARDA, Johnson & Johnson Innovation aims to identify and nurture the best ideas of early-stage companies from across our global innovation network to accelerate the development of potentially life-changing new solutions aimed to prevent, intercept, treat and cure serious diseases.”

The program does not end at the seven companies. J&J plans to continue accepting applications for Blue Knight on a rolling basis. The companies potentially can take up residency at JLABS facilities in Washington, DC, New York, San Diego or Toronto, or work remotely if they do not require physical space.

Gary Disbrow, acting BARDA director, stated, “BARDA’s partnership with Johnson & Johnson Innovation – JLABS is part of the whole-of-America approach needed to respond not only to COVID-19 but also to the myriad of evolving health security threats our nation faces. With Blue Knight embedded within the global JLABS network, we can support healthcare entrepreneurs focused on the development of advanced innovations to improve our nation’s response capability and protect us all from future public health emergencies.”

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