HHS teams up with Janssen to treat coronavirus

HHS is extending its existing partnership with pharmaceutical company Janssen Research & Development, which is part of Johnson & Johnson, to develop treatments for the 2019 novel coronavirus, the agency announced.

The announcement comes as coronavirus, which presents with respiratory symptoms including cough and shortness of breath, as well as fever, has spread to more than 71,000 people, according to the World Health Organization. Just 15 of the cases have been diagnosed in the U.S. The virus has been mostly contained to China, where 1,772 deaths have been reported as of Feb. 16.

HHS outlined that Janssen will collaborate with HHS’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) to find medicines that could help treat coronavirus, which has been dubbed Covid-19, and reduce the severity of the illness. The entities will also work toward finding an antiviral solution, as there are currently no vaccines or therapeutics approved by the FDA to treat the disease. HHS is leaning on past SARS and MERS outbreaks to contain the Covid-19 threat.

“This is the third coronavirus to emerge and cause severe respiratory disease in humans within 18 years, and there are still no proven therapies to treat this disease,” said BARDA Director Rick A. Bright, Ph.D. “In partnering with Janssen, BARDA is breaking this barrier to protect against this, as well as the next, coronavirus outbreak. This partnership may accelerate discovery and development of new, potentially lifesaving medicines for people with coronavirus infections.”

Janssen will also work with the Rega Institute for Medical Research in Belgium, screening approved therapeutics and investigational therapeutics. Rega Institute has a high throughput screening experience and capabilities for studying special pathogens as well as the infrastructure to work with Janssen’s drug development resources and antiviral expertise, according to HHS.

BARDA is also working with other government agencies and the Department of Defense to review possible vaccines, treatments and diagnostics.