* Depression drug would target worst-case patients
* J&J says fast-acting drug may help avert suicides
* J&J to seek approvals for flu, rabies, polio vaccines
By Ransdell Pierson
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J., May 23 Johnson & Johnson
said it plans to seek approvals for 11 new drugs by
2017, including a treatment for patients with depression who
have failed to benefit from standard medications.
The intranasal drug, called esketamine, is closely related
to a pediatric anesthetic called ketamine that has been shown in
academic studies to ease symptoms rapidly in such patients,
including a reduction in suicidal thoughts.
Ketamine is also the active ingredient of the mood-altering
party drug known as "Special K."
J&J, which is testing its tweaked version of ketamine in
mid-stage trials, on Thursday said initial findings have been
Yale University researchers have described ketamine as the
biggest breakthrough against depression in the past
half-century, theorizing that the anesthetic helps rejuvenate
connections between brain cells called synapses that have been
damaged by stress and depression.
"The results have been truly remarkable," Husseini Manji,
head of neuroscience at Johnson & Johnson, said of the studies
conducted at Yale on ketamine.
Manji said esketamine could be very important for depressed
patients who have become suicidal, because it works so quickly.
"Today you basically treat people and lock them up until the
drugs take effect."
The Yale research shows ketamine takes effect within hours.
By contrast, standard drugs can take weeks or months to improve
symptoms. But the Yale researchers have cautioned that ketamine
can cause short-term psychosis if used in large doses.
J&J spokesman Greg Panico said the company's altered form of
ketamine is given in small doses through an intranasal spray.
Details about the depression drug emerged on Thursday at an
all-day meeting with hundreds of analysts and fund managers at
J&J's headquarters in New Brunswick, New Jersey, held to discuss
trends for its pharmaceuticals business.
J&J said it will also seek approvals by 2017 for drugs to
treat hepatitis C, immune diseases and schizophrenia, and
vaccines for flu, rabies and polio.
The company, citing industry statistics, said total global
sales of prescription drugs are expected to grow 4.5 percent
annually until 2017.
Peter Rabover, an analyst with Scharf Investments in Scotts
Valley, California, said J&J's array of experimental drugs
suggests company pharmaceutical sales will outpace the market.
"To me, it looks like they can grow 6 to 9 percent a year
for the next five years," Rabover said.
HEART FAILURE BACK IN FOCUS
The diversified healthcare company said it is conducting
mid-stage trials of a new type of drug for heart failure, a
debilitating and hard-to-treat condition in which the heart is
unable to supply blood adequately to the rest of the body. The
drug mimics a protein called Beta 1-Adrenergic Receptor.
J&J is wading back into the heart-failure field after the
collapse of its older treatment, called Natrecor, which J&J
spent billions of dollars to acquire. It became a big seller
after being launched in 2001, but was virtually abandoned years
later after studies questioned its safety and effectiveness.
Company prescription drugs have rebounded in the past two
years following generic competition for Risperdal and J&J's
Topamax epilepsy treatment.
Sales of J&J drugs rose 4 percent last year and by 10
percent in the first quarter of 2013, thanks to brisk-selling
new treatments for prostate cancer, blood clots, diabetes and
"Pharma is now J&J's most attractive segment because they
have moved past patent expirations and have a large number of
new products," said Jeff Jonas, an analyst with Gabelli & Co.
The company's other two businesses - consumer products and
medical devices - are also growing, but have been plagued by
Company shares have jumped 26 percent so far this year,
versus an 18 percent gain for the drug sector. They have been
helped by enthusiasm for J&J's improving drug lineup and the
steady return of recalled consumer medicines, including Tylenol,
to store shelves.
J&J shares closed down 0.7 percent at $87.21 on Thursday
amid a moderate decline for the drug sector