January 10th, 2008

Greatest Hits Lists

By Marc

jojo_6832_63882.jpg Ahhh… It’s that time of the year again — almost everywhere you turn there is another “greatest hits” of 2007 story to endure. A lot of all this is just fluff and filler, but even the cynic in me admits that there are some lists worth paying attention to. Time Magazine, for one, published its list of the top ten medical innovations for 2007 — which includes some pretty interesting developments in the field of medicine. Of particular note to those of us who work for Johnson & Johnson, this year’s list included the GeneSearch BLN Assay.

Approved last year and sold by Johnson & Johnson company Veridex, GeneSearch is the first intraoperative and gene-based test designed to detect the spread of breast cancer into the lymph nodes. Sitting here in Corporate Headquarters, I’m not close to the science behind this new product — and if you are looking for that it would be best to check in with Veridex — but I think how it all came about is a pretty interesting story.

As I’ve mentioned before, the breadth of Johnson & Johnson’s business and its decentralized operating model are often seen as a source of strength. This company has experts working in lots of different fields: from both traditional and biotech medicines to surgical devices to diagnostic tools to new science-based consumer products and cosmetics. In the case of GeneSearch, having this broad stable of experts paid off.

The discovery of suitable biomarkers — and their significance as a way to detect the spread of cancer — was not made in the diagnostics business, but in the discovery labs of Johnson & Johnson’s pharmaceuticals business. In La Jolla, California, to be exact.

Experts in the established diagnostics business within Johnson & Johnson grasped the significance of this discovery — and recognized the role it could play in the diagnosis of cancer and in the lives of patients. In addition, surgical experts from another Johnson & Johnson company, Ethicon Endo Surgery, helped the team understand the problem from a surgeon’s perspective.

To fully develop this, a team was formed that included experts from these different businesses who together developed, refined and obtained approval for the GeneSearch tool. To house this multidisciplinary team, a new business unit was created — Veridex.

Now to be fair, had such discoveries been made at other companies that are more focused on either diagnostics, medical devices or pharmaceuticals, a similar outcome might have been achieved. But I believe that there is something about having all of this under one roof that helps this happen more often at Johnson & Johnson.

(Just to give you a flavor of how GeneSearch works in practice, I spoke to one of my colleagues in the diagnostics business who told me about the first time GeneSearch was used in a US operating room after FDA approval.

During surgery on a patient with breast cancer, a Florida physician stopped the procedure to check if the cancer had spread to a patient’s sentinel lymph node. He conducted both a frozen section test on a sample of the node and a GeneSearch test. About 40 minutes later, while the patient was still on the operating table, the GeneSearch test came back positive, leading him to remove the patient’s sentinel lymph node and finish the surgery. Later, tissue pathology confirmed the presence of cancer.)

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