April 1st, 2014

Taking the Neglect Out of Neglected Tropical Diseases

Editor’s Note: Johnson & Johnson Chief Scientific Officer Paul Stoffels will be participating in the “Uniting to Combat Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs): A Conversation on Progress” meeting in Paris on April 2-3.   

by Paul Stoffels, M.D., Chief Scientific Officer, Johnson & Johnson and Worldwide Chairman, Janssen

Someone once told me a story about a young boy living in a severely underdeveloped village in Africa. He couldn’t have been older than nine. But, within his immediate family, he was the only one who could see. I asked my colleague why this was – was it something genetic? “No,” my colleague replied, “Parasites.”

The boy’s family had all contracted onchocerciasis, more commonly known as river blindness. This debilitating disease occurs in sub-Saharan Africa and puts over 120 million people at risk. At least 18 million are infected, leading to 750,000 cases of impaired vision and, in extreme cases, blindness.

River blindness is just one of 17 conditions referred to as neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). Collectively, NTDs affect more than a billion people worldwide, most of which live in resource-poor areas.  But the growing need to combat NTDs has not been matched with resources and attention from the global health community.

But, we aim to change that. In January 2012, our company was one of 13 that endorsed the London Declaration on Neglected Tropical Diseases. In a multi-sector effort led by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we are working to create a world where 10 of the worst NTDs are controlled or eliminated by the end of the decade.

It is the 2nd anniversary of the London Declaration, and a lot has been done already. Johnson & Johnson scaled up resources and forged collaborative partnerships to advance research & development for new treatments for worm-based infections. We are working with the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop a reformulated version of a potentially more effective treatment against the parasites that cause diseases like elephantiasis and river blindness. We quadrupled our commitment to Children Without Worms – a flagship initiative focused on ensuring that school-aged children who contract worms from soil, receive the treatment they need to live and grow. And, we will provide 200 million doses of our deworming medicine mebendazole each year through 2020.

In parallel, our team of dedicated researchers is working tirelessly to develop a chewable formulation of mebendazole for 200 million pre-school aged children. Together, with our partners, we can build a world where young boys do not have to live in fear of losing their sight.

A world where a collaborative effort, driven by a shared vision, can improve the health and lives of the most vulnerable who will be neglected no more.

Paul Stoffels MD
Dr. Paul Stoffels is Chief Scientific Officer, and Worldwide Chairman, Pharmaceuticals, Johnson & Johnson. In this role, he works with R&D leaders across Johnson & Johnson to set the enterprise-wide innovation agenda and is a member of the Johnson & Johnson Executive Committee. He began his career as a physician in Africa, focusing on HIV and tropical diseases research. Paul chairs the Johnson & Johnson R&D Management Committee and provides oversight to the Johnson & Johnson Development Corporation (JJDC) and the Johnson & Johnson innovation centers, with the goal of catalyzing innovative science and technology.

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