J&J teams with U.K. to probe molecular causes of RA drug failures

The United Kingdom's National Institute for Health Research has teamed up with Johnson & Johnson's ($JNJ) Janssen to figure out why anti-TNF drugs are ineffective in some rheumatoid arthritis patients. J&J is funding the collaboration, which is indicative of how the U.K. wants to embed its healthcare infrastructure in drug development.

U.K. Minister for Life Sciences George Freeman

A consortium of 7 research centers will recruit 50 patients over the next 18 months and try to link the presence of certain molecular pathways to the likelihood of responding to anti-TNF drugs, such as J&J's Remicade. Currently, around 30% of patients fail to respond to either anti-rheumatic drugs such as methotrexate or anti-TNF therapies. Both parties stand to gain if the alliance learns the molecular reasons for such treatment failures.

For J&J, the knowledge could guide development of new, more targeted or widely effective drugs. The U.K. has intertwined but distinct motivations. The National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends Roche's ($RHHBY) Rituxan for patients who don't respond to first-line treatments, but at £3,500 ($5,250) a course its partial effectiveness is an issue. If physicians knew which patients were likely to respond to which anti-TNF drug, they could improve outcomes while cutting waste.

The driving forces behind the collaboration touch on topics that are likely to be covered in the ongoing review of the future of drug development in the U.K. Government officials expect the independent review to assess how the U.K. can apply its healthcare and regulatory infrastructure to cut the time and money it takes to develop a drug. In doing so, the U.K. hopes to rein in the cost of new drugs and the time it takes for them to reach patients.

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