In the wake of Gilead’s string of hepatitis C therapy approvals, Johnson & Johnson’s pharmaceutical division, Janssen, has announced that it will cease development for the infectious disease. Instead, the company plans to focus on drug development for the chronic hepatitis B market, for which there are far fewer therapies.
According to Janssen, the “decision was made in light of the increasing availability of a number of highly effective therapies addressing the medical need in hepatitis C.” In July of this year, Gilead received FDA approval for Vosevi, its fourth drug developed to treat hepatitis C.
Specifically, the drugmaker will halt development on JNJ-4178, an investigational combination antiviral drug designed to treat hepatitis C. While the currently-underway Phase II clinical trials for the drug will continue as planned, development of the drug will stop as soon as those programs end.
“Going forward, our hepatitis R&D efforts will focus on chronic hepatitis B, where a high unmet medical need still exists,” said Dr. Lawrence M. Blatt, Global Therapeutic Area Head, Infectious Disease Therapeutics, Janssen. “Our scientists are energized by this challenge and our research ambition is to achieve a functional cure of hepatitis B which affects over a quarter of a billion people globally.”
Janssen has a long history of hepatitis C drug development. However, most drugs used to treat the disease have a hard time competing with Gilead’s over 90 percent cure rate for hepatitis C.
In 2015, Achillion inked a licensing agreement with Janssen for JNJ-4178 which has now been terminated following the company’s decision to discontinue development.
“We are disappointed by Janssen’s decision to discontinue HCV development given the positive data presented in phase 2a with JNJ-41781, demonstrating a 100% cure rate after only six weeks of therapy,” said Dr. Milind Deshpande, President and Chief Executive Officer of Achillion.