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Johnson & Johnson invites medical entrepreneurs to lunch

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If you’re a medical researcher looking for input (and maybe even financial backing) from one of the world’s largest health care companies, a good place to start might be lunch this Thursday at Johnson & Johnson’s Boston Innovation Center in Cambridge.

J&J hosts brainstorming lunches on the first Thursday of every month at its Imagine If Cafe.

“We have in our cafe recurring lunches where researchers come in and we just sit around a table and talk about what they’re doing and how we might be able to help,” said Robert Urban, who heads the center. “So it always starts with, ‘Imagine if we could ...’ and we fill it in with a conversation around lunch.”

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Johnson & Johnson already has invested in a few local life sciences companies, including biotech startups Rodin Therapeutics, which is working on treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, and Vedanta Biosciences, which is developing a drug to combat inflammatory bowel disease.

Urban told me J&J approaches conversations with entrepreneurs with an uncommonly open mind.

“What I think is special about what we’re doing is our adaptive approach to collaborations,” he said. “What we hope to start every relationship with is just a very interactive conversation with entrepreneurs and the inventions and discoveries that they’re focused on, trying to understand how it is that they seek to pursue those discoveries and explore very creatively how we as a large company might facilitate the progress of those inventions.

“We don’t come to it with a preconceived notion of how best we might collaborate with a set of researchers. We try to in a very open-ended way, explore that together and see what type of relationship would be the most effective one for us to enter into.”

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