Neglected Tropical Diseases
Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) affect more than 1 billion people worldwide, predominantly among the poorest and most vulnerable populations in tropical climates. Of the 20 NTDs prioritized in the WHO WHO World Health Organization roadmap 2021 – 2030,42 Johnson & Johnson research and medicines support the treatment and prevention of three high-prevalence NTDs: dengue; soil-transmitted helminthiasis (STH), also known as intestinal worms; and leprosy. As a longstanding partner in the fight against NTDs for nearly two decades, Johnson & Johnson collaborates across sectors to develop sophisticated diagnostics and data management systems, build capacity, and support frontline health workers while pursuing an R&D pipeline to advance solutions for the prevention and treatment of NTDs.
Global NTD Prevalence43
Reaching a milestone in treating STH: By the close of 2021, we surpassed a total of two billion doses cumulatively donated of VERMOX (mebendazole), our medicine to treat intestinal worm infections. Since the donation program’s inception in 2006, VERMOX has been administered to people in need in more than 50 resource-limited countries worldwide. Our longstanding donation program aims to help children, who are especially vulnerable to intestinal worms, live healthier lives. Our extended VERMOX donation commitment aims to ensure that up to one billion doses of VERMOX Chewable (mebendazole chewable 500mg tablets) are provided in the 2021 – 2025 period to high-burden countries, treating up to 100 million children each year. In 2021, the first year of this commitment, Johnson & Johnson donated more than 220 million doses of VERMOX in chewable and tablet formulations.
Johnson & Johnson has supported BRAC, an international nonprofit leading the fight against STH in Bangladesh, where one in two children is infected. Through the program, BRAC has trained nearly 200 community health workers and more than 4,000 school mentors to educate families on deworming. In turn, these providers have educated more than 100,000 mothers and caregivers through health forums and reached more than 90,000 children with deworming medication through schools and community deworming camps.
More than 15 years ago, Johnson & Johnson committed to address the threat of intestinal worms. The reach and the impact of this program is a testament to the power of enduring commitment and unprecedented collaboration across sectors and shows that together, we can tackle the most significant challenges in global health.
NTD surveillance and research: Together with public and private organizations and governments, Johnson & Johnson is helping streamline the diagnosis and surveillance of NTDs in low-resource countries by developing novel technology using AI. Through our unique collaboration with Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany’s Global Health Institute and other organizations, we strive to optimize the impact of the interventions by providing tools to improve efficiency and accuracy of diagnosis, including an AI-based tool that aims to enable country programs to effectively monitor and target treatment for STH. Additionally, in partnership with WIPO Re:Search, we make our JumpstARter Compound Library of 80,000 small molecules and compounds fragments freely available to drug discovery researchers to help identify and advance promising drug candidates to ﬁght NTDs.
Progress in 2021 across NTDs in our focus included:
Advancing protection against the dengue virus: We shared new preclinical data,44 published in Nature, showing that an early stage compound with a novel mechanism of action could potentially treat all serotypes of dengue and provide protection against acquiring dengue, an achievement no antiviral has delivered to date. Building on this research, we completed a Phase 1, first-in-human clinical study evaluating a small molecule with a novel mechanism of antiviral action, which confirmed the dengue-specific antiviral to be safe and well-tolerated in humans. This marks an important step forward in assessing our novel dengue antiviral, as there are currently no treatments available for dengue, and the sole licensed vaccine is approved for limited use.
Our breakthrough work in dengue signals what is possible when collaborative science is applied at the discovery phase and channeled toward great unmet need in public health.
Targeted research and collaboration addressing other NTDs: We continue to investigate improving the efficacy and safety of treatment for leprosy through a proof-of-concept Phase 2 trial that is currently running to assess the safety, pharmacokinetics and efficacy of eight weeks of bedaquiline monotherapy in participants with multibacillary leprosy. The trial is fully enrolled with a primary completion date in January 2023. We are also collaborating with the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research (WEHI) in an extended drug-discovery collaboration to develop potential new antimalarial drug candidates.