Johnson & Johnson, the diversified healthcare giant, is forming a partnership with the nonprofit TB Alliance to share expertise and resources needed to finish clinical trials aimed at developing the first new drug for tuberculosis in more than 40 years.
The announcement from J&J (NYSE : JNJ) is being made this morning in Seattle at the Pacific Health Summit, the invitation-only gathering of 250 of the world’s leading scientists, public health officials, and businesses focused on global health. This is the first big announcement to come from this event, known as the “Davos” of global health, which I previewed yesterday.
J&J’s Tibotec division and the TB Alliance will focus their energy on a drug called TMC207. This product recently passed a mid-stage clinical trial of 47 patients, in which almost half of people with multidrug resistant forms of TB had no evidence of the bacterial invader in their mucus or phlegm after eight weeks of treatment, compared with one out of 10 who did that well on placeo (9 percent). The findings, published recently in the New England Journal of Medicine, suggest the treatment may have what it takes to be the first approved drug with a new way of working against the disease since the 1960s.
About 1.5 million people worldwide die each year from TB lung infections, making it one of the world’s deadliest diseases, along with HIV and malaria. Drug companies traditionally haven’t invested much in the field because it offers far less profit potential than diseases that are more common in wealthy countries, like cancer and diabetes.
“We see tremendous potential in this collaboration and in the future of TMC207 as part of a critically-needed new TB regimen,” said Mel Spigelman, president and CEO of the TB Alliance.