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The Radical Experiment That’s Changing the Way Big Pharma Innovates

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Just five years ago, one of the last places one would have looked for innovation at Johnson & Johnson was in its Merryfield Road lab in La Jolla, Calif.

The R&D facility for the healthcare giant, No. 103 on Fortune’s Global 500 list, had become something of a scientific wasteland—emptied of all but a few teams of the company’s researchers after the mass restructuring of J&J’s pharmaceutical business (For more on the transformation of J&J’s pharmaceutical business, see our Fortune story here.)

These days, the gleaming, state-of-the-art space is teeming with entrepreneurial spirit and cutting-edge science. What’s odd, though, is that these researchers toiling away within J&J’s walls—and making use of J&J’s abundant resources—do not work for the company. Nor do the findings or the discoveries they produce there belong to J&J. Some of these drug scientists even receive funding from J&J’s competitors. As for the venerable, 130-year-old company that’s paying for all this largesse, it claims it wants nothing more out of the arrangement than for its tenants—all life science start-ups—to succeed.

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