QuickFire Challenge deadline approaches for J&J BARDA Project NextGen accelerator

Johnson & Johnson

Johnson & Johnson Innovation and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) have announced the ‘Blue Knight Resident QuickFire Challenge: Accelerating Project NextGen’.

Allocating the first $10 million of the Biden-Harris Administration’s $5 billion Project NextGen to the initiative permits Blue Knight companies and their collaborators to submit promising pre-clinical and clinical solutions for funding consideration to help them reach their next critical developmental milestones.

Blue Knight is a joint initiative between J&J Innovation and BARDA, which is part of the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response (ASPR) at the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The initiative is dedicated to “anticipating potential health security threats, activating the global innovation community, and amplifying scientific and technological advancements”, to respond to a global health environment that is “rapidly evolving”.

BARDA provides an integrated and systematic approach to, according to a press release, "the development of the necessary vaccines, drugs, therapies, and diagnostic tools for public health medical emergencies, such as chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) accidents, incidents, and attacks", as well as pandemic influenza (PI) and emerging infectious disease (EID) in the 21st century.

With the deadline for applications this Friday, 30th June, the QuickFire Challenge offers two tracks: either in partnership with another Blue Knight or early-stage company, or as a sole contributor. Selected awardees who show promising potential pre-clinical solutions can each receive up to $1 million in award funding, while those demonstrating potential clinical-stage solutions may receive up to $3 million each in award funding.

Applications must address the outlined priorities of the Project NextGen initiative, including a focus on vaccines, monoclonal antibodies, and new and advanced technologies. Winners will be announced later in the year.

Seeking further comment on the QuickFire Challenge, pharmaphorum spoke with Rachel Rath, director of the BARDA Alliance for Johnson & Johnson Innovation.

“We launched Blue Knight in August of 2020,” Rath explained. “The idea for Blue Knight was actually originally announced in April 2019, when we stated that we would be opening our latest JLABS location at Washington DC, as part of the Children's National Research and Innovation Campus. And so, in April 2019, we announced that we would be partnering with BARDA to support early innovation, thinking about emerging pathogens and pandemic preparedness.”

Indeed, the launch of Blue Knight itself was in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, well-primed to help support the Project NextGen initiative and how the $5 billion would go to address three main areas in IT: vaccines, therapeutics, and enabling technologies for both.

“This $10 million QuickFire Challenge that we have ongoing today is really aimed at accelerating that enabling technologies pillar within the Biden-Harris administration project,” Rath continued. “To date, there are 37 portfolios, and the Blue Knight portfolio is truly worldwide – Australia, Bogota, Colombia, across North America, across Europe.”

“We’re really seeing this portfolio of companies that’s been developed over the last few years sort of come to fruition with this opportunity,” Rath said. “This is an exciting opportunity for early-stage companies to think about working together and collaborating to reach those important inflection points, so that we are more prepared and better prepared towards the future threats of tomorrow.”