Health care giant Johnson & Johnson will guide three local biotech companies as they seek to bring new products to market.
Acomhal Research and The Tiny Cargo Co., both in Roanoke, and Qentoros of Blacksburg, were recently picked for residencies in Johnson & Johnson’s JLABS program. The multibillion-dollar company, which produces medicines and medical devices but also common over-the-counter goods such as Benadryl, Listerine and Tylenol, will offer a suite of support services.
Johnson & Johnson explained the program on its website. “We value great ideas and are passionate about removing obstacles to success to help innovators unlock the potential of their early scientific discoveries,” the company said.
“We aim to support the incubation, growth and optimization of their research and development through industry connections, entrepreneurial programs and access to capital-efficient resources and lab space.”
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The announcement, which was expected, is part of the unfolding of a comprehensive plan to expand biotech in the region put together by a coalition of representatives from Virginia Tech, Carilion Clinic, Fralin Biomedical Research Institute, economic development organizations and local and state government offices.
Johnson & Johnson’s closest laboratory is in Washington, D.C. and it has not announced plans to build such a facility here. However, the VT Corporate Research Center in Blacksburg has built new laboratories in Blacksburg and plans to equip a laboratory complex in Roanoke next year. JLABS participants can rent the lab space, as can companies not associated with JLABS.
One of the companies chosen for residency, Tiny Cargo, is perfecting a drug delivery method based on cellular compartments called exosomes derived from cow’s milk. Its JLABS residency began last year and is continuing in 2023.
According to a statement by founder and president Robert Gourdie of Hardy, “access to the JLABS program has been instrumental in the overall development of The Tiny Cargo Company from a hypothetical startup originating in an academic lab into a funded startup with a deep IP portfolio.”
Spencer Marsh of Rocky Mount, chief scientific officer at Tiny Cargo, found value in consulting people at Johnson & Johnson who “have been through the drug discovery journey a number of times. They’re really helpful in discovering what is required,” he said in an interview.
JLABS is also opening its doors to Acomhal Research, which develops drugs “with the aim to treat primary cancer tumors more effectively,” the CRC said. In addition, there’s Qentoros, which creates therapeutics with anti-inflammatory properties from platelet-rich plasma.
The company believes the planned therapy can treat joint infections and disease in horses and, eventually, human beings.
January strong for Amtrak
Amtrak ridership set a record in January, typically a slower month for travel.
The statewide train network with 17 stations in four corridors carried 87,000 riders in January, according to the Virginia Passenger Rail Authority.
The Roanoke corridor posted 22,639 riders, up nearly 36% from January 2020. Officials said the data being released shows “a strong rebound in post-pandemic travel, with every route seeing an increase.”
Last year, Amtrak’s total Virginia ridership hit 1 million and exceeded the previous record of 953,000 riders established in 2019, officials said.
First Transit changes hands again
First Transit, which runs Valley Metro in Roanoke, Salem and Vinton, has changed hands for the second time in 20 months.
Purchaser Transdev North America of Lombard, Ill., paid an undisclosed amount for First Transit earlier this month. First Transit now belongs to the French public-transport company Transdev Group.
First Transit previously belonged to the Swedish firm EQT Group, whose infrastructure division bought First Transit in July 2021 from FirstGroup plc, based in Scotland.
Roanoke awarded First Transit, which is based in Cincinnati, a five-year contract in 2020 to operate the local bus system. First Transit has continued to run the local bus service throughout its ownership transitions and there are no obvious signs the new owners have changed anything here.