f you look at the trajectory of the global fight against tuberculosis (TB), it’s clear that now is different. We have better tools than ever before, including the first two new drugs in over 40 years and a game-changing diagnostic. High-burden countries, like South Africa, are showing tremendous leadership in combating the disease and paving the way for others to follow. And just last month, global leaders gathered at a United Nations high-level meeting to put TB at the top of the political agenda for the first time in history.
And it’s about time. For years, TB was largely overlooked and underfunded, and efforts to control it stagnated. Today, there are 10 million new cases of active TB every year, and TB is the leading infectious disease killer, claiming 1.6 million lives every year—equivalent to the entire population of a city like Barcelona or Phoenix. Growing resistance to the medicines used to treat TB is further compounding this challenge. A threat this big doesn’t just need our urgent attention—it demands it.
When most people think of TB, they think of its impact on adults—but the TB epidemic in children has become a silent crisis, with 1 million cases and nearly 250,000 deaths among children under 15 every year. Children are particularly vulnerable because pediatric TB is difficult to detect and even more difficult to treat, due in large part to a lack of both child-friendly diagnostics and pediatric formulations of TB medications.
At Johnson & Johnson, we are setting out to tackle this challenge head-on. As the head of research and development (R&D) for our Global Public Health program, I lead a team that is working to advance the clinical development of our treatment for multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) in children. Just this week at the Union World Conference on Lung Health in The Hague, results were presented from a study of our medicine in adolescents (ages 12-17). Data from a younger cohort (ages 5-12—using a new pediatric formulation of our medicine—will be published in the coming months.
Beyond our research in the lab, we are also collaborating with partners to improve the lives of children with TB today. For example, in Vietnam, we are partnering with the government and the global nonprofit PATH on a project called Breath for Life, which is working to increase the detection, diagnosis and treatment of pediatric TB in one of the provinces hardest hit by the epidemic.
These efforts are in support of Johnson & Johnson’s new 10-year initiative, announced last month, focused on identifying undiagnosed cases of TB, ensuring access to MDR-TB treatment and accelerating R&D for next-generation treatments for TB—including pediatric TB. Our ultimate aim is to produce a shorter and better-tolerated treatment regimen for all forms of TB.
We launched this initiative because we know that to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target of ending TB by 2030, the status quo will not be sufficient; we must be more innovative than ever before—both in the lab and on the ground in the countries hardest hit by the TB epidemic.
Now and in the years ahead, Johnson & Johnson is committed to doing our part to make sure that now really is different for TB—because, simply put, now has to be different. Millions of people—including millions of children—are counting on it.