Johnson & Johnson forges partnership to fight dengue fever

Johnson & Johnson's ($JNJ) Janssen is partnering with the University of Leuven in Belgium and the U.K.'s Wellcome Trust in an effort to combat the world's fastest-spreading tropical disease, dengue fever.

The collaboration builds on an existing three-year drug discovery program at the Rega Institute and the Centre for Drug Design and Discovery (CD3) at KU Leuven, supported by a Wellcome Trust Seeding Drug Discovery Award. This effort resulted in the identification of a series of compounds that are highly potent inhibitors of dengue virus replication. Through the new partnership, researchers will use this previous work to develop candidate antiviral drugs to prevent and treat dengue infection, which mostly affects Asia but has been popping up in the Caribbean and Latin America in recent years.

There are currently no approved vaccines that can prevent the mosquito-borne infection or approved drugs that can stop the replication and spread of the virus. Available therapies only aim to alleviate symptoms, which include a severe and debilitating fever, rash, and muscle and joint pain, sometimes referred to as "breakbone fever." In some cases, infection can lead to internal hemorrhage and can be fatal.

A recent dengue fever epidemic has sparked a public health emergency in Central America, and in Florida, 8 dengue cases have been confirmed as of Aug. 30. Experts have warned that slowly rising global temperatures may be to blame, since the tropical disease favors mosquito-rich environments. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that there are between 50 million and 100 million infections each year.

Under the terms of the agreement, Janssen will make an upfront payment and milestone payments based on achieving development, regulatory and sales goals. KU Leuven is also eligible to receive royalty payments on sales of future products discovered or developed under the agreement. At the end of the collaboration period, Janssen will have the option to further develop the candidate drug toward regulatory approval.

- get FierceBiotech's take
- read the press release