LONDON Aug 29 Johnson & Johnson is
joining the hunt for drugs to treat dengue fever - the world's
fastest-spreading tropical disease - by linking with academic
researchers in Belgium and the Wellcome Trust medical charity.
There is currently no drug treatment or vaccine for the
mosquito-borne viral disease, which is also called "breakbone
fever" because of the severe pain it can cause.
The tie-up between J&J's Janssen unit and researchers at the
University of Leuven, who have received backing from Wellcome,
will build on the discovery of a series of chemical compounds
that are highly potent in preventing the replication of dengue
The compounds, which have yet to be tested in clinical
trials, are active against all four types of the virus and have
been shown to work in animal tests.
While testing them in humans will take many years, the new
alliance marks a vote of confidence in the feasibility of making
an effective dengue medicine. J&J already has a proven track
record in developing other antiviral medicines, including
treatments for HIV and hepatitis C.
The partners said on Thursday that J&J would make an
undisclosed upfront payment and milestone payments based upon
the achievement of development, regulatory and sales goals.
Experts estimated in April that there may be as many as 390
million dengue infections around the world each year, although
not all patients get seriously sick.
Current approaches to treating the condition are focused on
Spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, dengue has grown
rapidly along with urbanisation and globalisation because it
thrives in tropical mega-cities and is easily spread in goods
containing small puddles of water, such as used tyres.
Climate change is also making more parts of the planet
habitable for the dengue-spreading mosquito.
As a result, half the world's population is now exposed to
the disease - mostly in the developing world, but also in parts
of southern Europe and the southern United States.
Last year Europe experienced its first sustained
transmission of dengue fever since the 1920s with around 2,000
people infected in the Portuguese archipelago of Madeira.
Hopes for an effective dengue vaccine suffered a setback
last year when an experimental shot from Sanofi proved
less effective than hoped in a mid-stage clinical trial in
Further large trials of the vaccine - the most advanced in
development - are still continuing and scientists have not given
up hope that it may yet have a role to play, while Sanofi is
stepping up its production.