Johnson & Johnson inks R&D pact to fight growing threat of dengue infections

Via an academic alliance, drug giant Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) aims to advance antiviral compounds against the rising threat of dengue infection. The company's Janssen unit has teamed up with Belgian academics, whose backing from the Wellcome Trust has aided the discovery of potential drugs against all four strains of the mosquito-borne illness.

Janssen, which has developed antivirals for HIV, hepatitis and other infections, has paid an upfront fee and agreed to pay future milestones and royalties to gain global rights to the compounds from a three-year alliance between the Rega Institute and the Centre for Drug Design and Discovery (CD3) at KU Leuven. The compounds, which are intended to stymie replication of the dengue virus, have shown effectiveness in animal tests. And the J&J deal fuels ongoing work to advance the preclinical program to human clinical trials.

Dengue infection, which afflicts an estimated 390 million people annually, has proven a difficult target for drug hunters. Sanofi ($SNY) reported mixed results from a midstage trial of a dengue vaccine in Thailand, yet the French drug giant has kept hope alive for the experimental vaccine with ongoing development and investment in manufacturing, Reuters noted. Also called "breakbone fever," dengue can cause severe fevers, pain and rashes and is sometimes fatal.

With no approved vaccines or drugs against dengue, J&J has seized rights to potentially pioneering drugs in the deal with KU Leuven. Of course, the collaborators face the gauntlet of clinical development for the unproven compounds in a dengue-infected population that has proven difficult to treat.

"It was a great experience to work with CD3 and the Wellcome Trust to discover this new class of dengue antivirals, which can be further developed by Janssen as the first potential medication to prevent and treat infections with the dengue virus," professor Johan Neyts of the Rega Institute, KU Leuven, said in a statement.

- here's the release
- check out the Reuters article