Clockwise, from top left: The Institute of Microbial Technology in India; tuberculosis researcher Koen Andries; a view of the bacteria under a microscope
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Innovation
The Quest to End Tuberculosis: 13 Memorable Moments in Innovation
The Quest to End Tuberculosis: 13 Memorable Moments in Innovation
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Johnson & Johnson has been instrumental in helping bring us closer to a TB-free world through its groundbreaking work with multidrug-resistant TB—and now a promising single-pill treatment that's being investigated.

Tuberculosis (TB) is one of the world’s greatest health threats.

Today, nearly one-quarter of the world's population is infected with the TB bacteria. In 2016 alone, there were 1.7 million TB-related deaths.

While most cases of TB can be successfully treated with medication, there is growing concern about the rising rates of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB)—that is, cases of TB that don't respond to the two most powerful TB drugs. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there were nearly half a million new cases of MDR-TB in 2016.

That’s why Johnson & Johnson has had a long-standing commitment to help make TB history through numerous initiatives.

“While one big milestone for us has been the development of the first new TB treatment in over 40 years for MDR-TB, our focus goes far beyond that,” says Wim Parys Wim Parys,Vice President R&D, Global Public Health, Johnson & Johnson, Vice President R&D, Global Public Health, Johnson & Johnson.

The company has partnered with such high-burden countries as China, India, Russia and South Africa to increase TB awareness, train health workers, improve diagnosis rates and increase access to affordable treatment. Through a four-year donation program, Johnson & Johnson has also committed to provide over 60,000 courses of its MDR-TB treatment, free of charge, to more than 100 eligible low- and middle-income countries around the world.

“Access is especially difficult in low-income nations,” explains Ana-Maria Ionescu Ana-Maria Ionescu, Senior Director, Global Marketing Leader TB, Global Public Health, Johnson & Johnson, Senior Director, Global Marketing Leader TB, Global Public Health, Johnson & Johnson. “Today, we’ve reached patients in more than 105 countries, including 29 of the 30 countries with the highest burdens of TB, such as South Africa and India.”

As the United Nations General Assembly convenes this week to hold the first-ever high-level meeting on the fight to end TB, we explore the decadeslong role Johnson & Johnson has played to help bring the world one step closer to achieving its goal of ending the disease.

  • Paul Janssen, founder of Janssen Pharmaceuticals
    1926

    A Man With a Passion for Curing TB

    Paul Janssen, the founder of Janssen Pharmaceuticals, part of the Johnson & Johnson family of companies, is born in Turnhout, Belgium.

    When Janssen was a child, his 4-year-old sister died of tuberculous meningitis. The loss affected him so deeply that it drove him to pursue a career in medicine—and find a new treatment for tuberculosis.

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  • A molecular view of the first antibiotic developed for tuberculosis treatment A molecular view of the antibiotic
    1943

    The First Anti-TB Drug Debuts

    The antibiotic, which was discovered by a researcher in the U.S., is part of a class of drugs called aminoglycoside antibiotics. It is the first effective treatment for TB and works by killing the bacteria that cause the disease.

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  • Scientist working in a lab
    1965

    A New Class of Antibiotics Enters the Scene

    A novel and potent antibiotic called rifampin is discovered in Italy, which helps cut treatment time from 18–24 months to 6–9 months, when used in concert with other drugs.

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  • Man in a surgical mask
    1980s

    MDR-TB Emerges

    In this decade, rates of MDR-TB—which can develop if a treatment is misprescribed, or if a patient does not successfully complete treatment—start to soar.

    “We’ve seen an increase in drug-resistant tuberculosis for two reasons," explains Koen Andries, Koen Andries,Distinguished Research Fellow, Janssen, Belgium Distinguished Research Fellow, Janssen, Belgium. "The first is patients stopping medication too early, or not taking all the pills as prescribed, since regimens can be complicated. The second is doctors not prescribing medications correctly.”

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  • A microscopic view of tuberculosis A microscopic view of TB
    2004

    Janssen Makes a Breakthrough Discovery

    Andries and his team find that a compound discovered two years earlier is able to kill off tuberculosis bacteria by blocking a specific enzyme. Janssen researchers use this knowledge to create a new anti-tuberculosis treatment.

    One year later, the team publishes a study in the medical journal Science showing that the drug successfully treats MDR-TB in mice.

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  • Koen Andries, Distinguished Research Fellow, Janssen, Belgium, at work in the lab Andries at work in the lab
    2009

    Researchers Have an Aha! Moment

    The treatment has a setback, following a disappointing initial Phase 2 clinical trial.

    “We tested it for seven days in about 70 patients with pulmonary tuberculosis, but the drug didn’t work,” recalls Anil Koul, Ph.D. Anil Koul, Ph.D.,Senior Scientific Director and Fellow, Janssen, Belgium, Senior Scientific Director and Fellow, Janssen, Belgium.

    But researchers like Andries fought to keep it on the playing table.

    “It turns out the drug simply needed more time to become active in the human body—a month, as opposed to a week in mice,” Andries explains.

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  • FDA approved stamp
    2012

    The FDA Grants the Treatment Accelerated Approval

    The first medicine for TB in more than 40 years with a novel mechanism of action receives accelerated approval from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, due in large part to results from a Phase 2 clinical trial.

    After 24 weeks of treatment, almost 79% of patients in the group treated with the drug tested negative for TB, compared with only 58% among those not receiving the treatment.

    The following year, the World Health Organization releases guidelines recommending the use of the drug, in combination drug therapy, for people with MDR-TB when an adequate regimen cannot otherwise be used because of resistance or intolerance to other drugs.

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  • Person holding an image of a chest x-ray
    2014

    Research Marches On With the Launch of a New Study

    Johnson & Johnson announces a collaboration with the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease to include the company's treatment in the STREAM study, a multicenter international trial to evaluate the medicine in patients with MDR-TB. Final study results are expected as early as 2023.

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  • A globe and a stethoscope
    2015

    Johnson & Johnson Makes an Unprecedented Donation

    The company signs an agreement with USAID and JSC Pharmstandard to donate 30,000 six-month courses of the treatment over the next four years to be used for MDR-TB treatment worldwide.

    Since then, Johnson & Johnson has signed on to provide 30,000 more courses—bringing the company's total donation to 60,000 treatments.

    "We are currently tracking our efforts in reaching patients in such high-TB-burden countries as China, India and South Africa through what we call the four A's—availability, affordability, adoption and appropriate use," Ionescu explains. "We ensure the latter through our adverse event reporting and medical education."

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  • Galen, the forefather of modern medicine and pharmacology and namesake of the International Prix Galien Award Galen, the forefather of modern medicine and pharmacology Historia/Shutterstock
    2016

    Janssen Wins the International Prix Galien Award

    The company garners the prestigious recognition for its TB work. The International Prix Galien Award—named for Galen, the forefather of modern medicine and pharmacology—honors important drugs and research achievements.

    “It’s a testament to our company’s perseverance, and our commitment to ensuring medical care for some of the world’s most neglected populations,” Parys says.

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  • The Nghe An Provincial Tuberculosis and Lung Disease Hospital in Vietnam Nghe An Provincial Tuberculosis and Lung Disease Hospital
    2016

    A Partnership Brings Aid to Vietnam

    Johnson & Johnson and global health nonprofit PATH form a unique partnership in Vietnam called Breath for Life.

    The collaboration combines the support of PATH, the National TB Control Program (NTP), the Nghe An Provincial Health Department (PHD) and the Nghe An Provincial Tuberculosis and Lung Disease Hospital (PTLH) to help improve the detection, diagnosis and management of TB in Nghe An, an area in Vietnam with a very high burden of TB.

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  • The Institute of Microbial Technology (IMTech) in India The Institute of Microbial Technology in India
    2017

    An Innovation-Focused Research Collaboration Is Formed in India

    Johnson & Johnson announces a collaboration with India’s Institute of Microbial Technology (IMTech) that's focused on discovering new treatments for TB.

    The hope: pairing IMTech’s world-class expertise in microbial technology with the TB expertise of Janssen scientists will lead to safer, more effective oral treatments and multidrug regimens for MDR-TB.

    “Most drug regimens now require taking 10 to 12 pills a day for two years, and a daily injection for six months,” Koul explains. “This can be difficult for even the most compliant user, so our ultimate goal is to develop a much safer and shorter treatment regimen, and possibly one day even combine several drugs into a single potent pill.”

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  • The New York City United Nations Headquarters The New York City UN Headquarters
    2018

    Johnson & Johnson Participates in the First UN High-Level Meeting to Help Accelerate TB Innovations

    On September 26, the United Nations holds its first-ever high-level meeting on TB at its headquarters in New York City to help drive progress toward defeating the disease. The theme: "United to end tuberculosis: an urgent global response to a global epidemic."

    Johnson & Johnson attends the meeting, which brings together heads of state to commit to accelerated action to end TB by 2030.

    In the lead-up to the event, Johnson & Johnson also hosts the TB Innovation Summit, in conjunction with the Stop TB Partnership, the UN Foundation, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and the World Economic Forum—and announces a 10-year initiative in support of ending the TB pandemic.

    For its part, Johnson & Johnson is also hard at work on a lofty research effort. “Our scientists are investigating a way to treat all tuberculosis patients—whether they have a multidrug resistant strain or not—with the same, single-pill regimen," Parys says.

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Read more about how the company is working to improve detection, broaden access to treatment and accelerate research and development for the disease by 2030.

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