Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), a diverse group of communicable diseases common primarily in developing countries, cause substantial illness in more than one billion people worldwide.9 These diseases, including dengue, roundworm and whipworm, impact the poorest, most vulnerable people on the planet and perpetuate cycles of poverty. Targeted commitments and investments from a range of partners over the years have reduced the burden of many NTDs, but significant gaps remain. Johnson & Johnson is committed to combating NTDs through R&D, product donations and partnerships.
We marked the fifth anniversary of the London Declaration on Neglected Tropical Diseases in 2017, the landmark agreement among the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies and other organizations, to donate NTD treatments and develop new disease-fighting tools. As an original signatory, we have met our London Declaration commitments, including development of a new chewable, child-friendly formulation of mebendazole to treat soil-transmitted helminthiasis (STH) or intestinal worms.
STH is among the most common infections worldwide, affecting the most deprived communities. Approximately two billion people are infested, with children more at risk. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 800 million children live in endemic areas in need of treatment and preventive interventions.10 We have been focusing on the science of STH for many years. With FDA approval of VERMOX CHEWABLE (mebendazole chewable 500mg tablets) in 2016, we are now working with the WHO and other health authorities to make the product available globally.
In addition to new treatments, we focus on expanding effective distribution channels to ensure medicines reach children in need. For more than a decade, Johnson & Johnson has been a lead partner for Children Without Worms (CWW), an organization that supports the implementation of national STH programs and distribution of our donated medicines. As part of our longstanding product donation program through CWW, to date we have donated more than 1.2 billion doses of VERMOX (mebendazole), and plan to donate an additional 200 million doses each year through 2020. In 2017, in partnership with CWW, we collaborated with the Government of Bangladesh to launch the country’s largest-ever deworming campaign targeting children and adolescents aged 5 to 16, which will ultimately treat more than 34 million people.11 We have donated VERMOX to the national program since 2007, with our donations to the country totaling more than 341 million treatments.
2020 GoalDeliver innovative healthcare access and training programs that impact a billion lives in underserved areas.*TargetProduce and donate 1 billion doses of VERMOX (mebendazole) to treat >100 million children per year at risk for intestinal worms.**Progress392 million doses of VERMOX donated in 30 countries with 218 million children having been targeted for treatment.StatusOn track
Additionally, we committed to combating dengue, also known as breakbone fever, a viral infection transmitted primarily by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. Dengue is one of the leading causes of hospitalization and death among children in Asia and Latin America, and worldwide prevalence is rapidly growing. Before 1970, only nine countries had experienced severe dengue epidemics, but today more than 125 countries across Africa, the Americas, the Eastern Mediterranean, South East Asia and the Western Pacific, live in fear of the next epidemic.12
The disease causes flu-like symptoms, which in some cases can become life-threatening. The aim of our dengue program is to develop potent, first-in-class antivirals for the prevention and treatment of dengue, both for travelers to—and vulnerable populations living in—dengue-endemic areas. In 2017, we made significant progress and were granted Orphan Drug Designation for treatment of dengue virus infection by the FDA in December. We could not advance novel compounds for addressing dengue without collaboration, and at the start of this effort Janssen joined with the Wellcome Trust, a global charitable foundation, and the University of Leuven in Belgium for the development of antiviral medicines to fight dengue.
Thailand reported more than 22,000 dengue cases and 31 fatalities in 2017 alone. Consequently, dengue was the focus of Johnson & Johnson Thailand’s 2017 campaign, “Protect your family, Prevent dengue.” The campaign shared information about the disease, its symptoms, first aid remedies and preventive tips for families, work places and local communities.
Flubendazole development, a program aimed at treatment of another NTD, river blindness, or onchocerciasis, common to Central and West Africa, was among commitments we made under the London Declaration. In 2017, we announced the discontinuation of this program because data from our pre-clinical research studies raised safety concerns at high doses or with prolonged exposure to the oral formulation. We continue to support ongoing efforts to find improved treatment and diagnostic solutions for this NTD, leveraging lessons learned from our research.
To facilitate additional research and breakthrough innovation in NTDs, Janssen opened approximately 80,000 chemical compounds of its molecular library to the global research community. Sharing these molecular compounds can help collaborators identify and advance promising drug candidates to accelerate treatment and prevention of TB, malaria, NTDs, and other diseases common in the developing world. Many organizations will benefit from access to Janssen’s library, including the U.S. Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the Center for Discovery and Innovation in Parasitic Diseases at University of California San Diego, and Australia’s Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research.
* “Underserved” refers to populations that are disadvantaged because of ability to pay, ability to access care, ability to access comprehensive health care, or other disparities for reasons of race, religion, language group or social status.
** After re-evaluating the progress measurement methodology for this target, we concluded that accurately predicting and measuring the reduction in infection rate is not feasible. Therefore, the target was adjusted to remove reporting on the infection reduction rate.