Hepatitis B Foundation President Chari A. Cohen expressed frustration that Janssen has decided to shut down its program to develop a drug to treat hepatitis B, which is incurable and infects millions in the U.S. and globally.
Industry publications have reported that J&J plans to walk away from its hepatitis B and D portfolio and pull out of the hepatitis B space, according to a news release posted on the foundation’s website. The release continued:
“This is, of course, disappointing news for us in the hepatitis B and D world,” Dr. Cohen said. “And this serves as a reminder to us, too. Companies operate at the whim of their leadership team and are not beholden to any specific cause. We have seen companies leave the field before, and will likely see this happen again in the future. This is why it is so important that the Hepatitis B Foundation and the Baruch S. Blumberg Institute are here. We remain steadfast to the cause of hepatitis B. We will always be here, and will be needed, to advocate for those living with hepatitis B, and raise our voices to prioritize hepatitis B, D and liver cancer.”
Timothy M. Block, Ph.D, founding president of the Hepatitis B Foundation and its research arm, the Baruch S. Blumberg Institute, is a virologist who has been working in hepatitis B for more than three decades.
“We entered 2023 with a robust and diverse pipeline of potential treatments for hepatitis B, but this news demonstrates the precarious nature of the pipeline,” Dr. Block said. “The pipeline is only as rich and diverse as marketplace forces and commercial interests permit. That’s why our work at the Hepatitis B Foundation and Blumberg Institute is so important; we do not waver from our primary, original mission, which is to find a cure for hepatitis B and support scientists worldwide who are also doing this critical research.”
J&J’s lead drug candidate was RNA interference therapeutic JNJ-3989, which the company had been developing with Arrowhead Pharmaceuticals.
The foundation provides an online database of drugs in development for hepatitis B and D, called Drug Watch, which is consulted daily by thousands of people living with hepatitis B, care providers, health care professionals, scientists, pharmaceutical professionals, industry analysts, regulators and others.
As the nation’s leading hepatitis B advocacy and research organization, the Hepatitis B Foundation is one of the most active proponents of improving hepatitis B screening, prevention and treatment of the disease. In the U.S., up to 2.4 million people are chronically infected and worldwide about 300 million people have the disease.
Hepatitis B is the most common serious liver infection in the world. It is caused by the hepatitis B virus that attacks and injures the liver. Each year up to 1 million people die from hepatitis B worldwide, even though it is preventable and treatable. Hepatitis B is a “silent epidemic” because most people do not have symptoms when they are newly or chronically infected. Thus, they can unknowingly infect others and continue the spread of hepatitis B. For people who are chronically infected but don’t have any symptoms, their livers are still being silently damaged, which can develop into serious liver disease such as cirrhosis or liver cancer.