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Johnson & Johnson Establishes International Consortium to End Tuberculosis

Multi-partner collaboration aims to advance the discovery and development of critically-needed innovative TB antibiotics

As part of the Company’s 10-year initiative to drive progress against tuberculosis (TB), Johnson & Johnson today announced that it has launched an international research consortium to discover and develop new TB antibiotics in collaboration with eight European academic and biotechnology partners. Co-funded by Europe’s Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) and Janssen Pharmaceutica N.V., part of the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson (Janssen), the initiative—called RESPIRI-TB—is the first in a series of new collaborations that Johnson & Johnson is undertaking to advance TB research and development.

TB is the world’s deadliest infectious disease, killing an estimated 1.6 million people in 2017 alone.[i] Current TB treatment regimens have suboptimal cure rates because they are lengthy, complex and difficult for patients to adhere to, and growing resistance to first-line treatments is compounding this challenge. Drug-resistant TB (DR-TB) is the single biggest contributor to the rising global health challenge of antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

“Over the past half century, just two new TB medicines have been developed. To achieve the ambitious global goal of ending TB, we urgently need many more innovative therapies,” said Paul Stoffels, M.D., Vice Chairman of the Executive Committee and Chief Scientific Officer, Johnson & Johnson. “No single company or institution holds all the answers.  As we did in the case of HIV, we need to work together to advance the very best science as quickly as possible. We are proud to be a founding partner in the RESPIRI-TB consortium, and we look forward to working with our global partners to develop the necessary TB treatments of the future.”

The ultimate goal of the RESPIRI-TB collaboration is to help enable the development of a new, more efficient combination drug regimen to cure multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB), with a focus on shortening treatment duration and minimizing the likelihood of resistance. To this end, the partners will work to advance the discovery and early-stage development of new compounds from different drug classes that could be used – in combination with each other or with existing therapies, such as Janssen’s bedaquiline. Bedaquiline was the first novel TB medicine to be approved in more than 40 years and, today, is one of the last lines of defense against MDR-TB.

The new consortium includes nine research teams spanning five European countries with expertise in mycobacterial diseases and drug target investigation, as well as project management. In addition to Janssen, members include: Leiden University Medical Center and the University of Leiden (Netherlands, which will serve as the project coordinator); University of Antwerp, Belgium; Sorbonne University, France; Medical University of Vienna, Austria; University of Copenhagen, Denmark; Mitologics, France; and FFUND B.V., Netherlands.

In addition to RESPIRI-TB, the research consortium will also work to build a pipeline of drug candidates for the non-TB mycobacterial (NTM) species M. avium and M. abscessus through a second project, RESPIRI-NTM. Although NTM infections are less prevalent than TB, currently available treatments for NTM infections are suboptimal, underscoring the urgent need for new therapeutic options.

“Tuberculosis and related diseases represent a major threat to public health worldwide, and a collaborative approach is essential if we are to develop new, safe and effective treatments,” said Pierre Meulien, Executive Director, IMI. “I am delighted that the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson and its partners in RESPIRI-TB and RESPIRI-NTM have come together to form the type of strategic, multi-sector alliances we need to boost the world’s response to the threat of these serious infectious diseases.”

IMI is supporting the development of a number of multi-partner research consortia under its AMR Accelerator program that aim to speed TB drug development across the R&D spectrum – from discovery/early-stage development (i.e., RESPIRI-TB) to later-stage translational development – with the overarching goal of dramatically improving TB treatment regimens.

Together, these and other company-specific and collaborative R&D efforts will help drive critical and necessary TB innovation. This is in line with the current draft of the World Health Organization’s Global Strategy for TB Research and Innovation, which is currently undergoing review and is expected to be finalized for adoption by the World Health Assembly in May 2020.

[i] World Health Organization. Global Health Observatory (GHO) data. Tuberculosis. Last accessed June 2019. Available at: https://www.who.int/gho/tb/en/

Source: J&J pressrelease