How Johnson & Johnson Is Helping Tackle a Devastating Tropical Disease That Impacts Kids

A new World Health Organization prequalification for mebendazole means the company can reach even more young people with intestinal worm infections around the globe.
Apr 10, 2019 1:45 PM ET

STH. It's an illness you likely haven't heard of, yet it affects approximately 1.5 billion people worldwide, making it one of the world's most common infections.

It's short for soil-transmitted helminthiasis, also known as intestinal worm infections, and it results from being exposed to contaminated soil, food or water in areas with poor sanitation. Children are particularly vulnerable to STH, which can lead to malnutrition, stunted growth and even impaired cognitive development.

Now, the World Health Organization (WHO) has prequalified a new way to protect children ages 1 and older against this neglected tropical disease (NTD) around the globe: a formulation of a worm-fighting medication called mebendazole that can either be chewed or mixed with a small amount of water to form a soft mass that's easier for very young children to swallow.

“As part of Johnson & Johnson’s long-standing commitment to combat NTDs, the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson developed this safe and effective pediatric formulation,” says Paul Stoffels, M.D., Vice Chair of the Executive Committee and Chief Scientific Officer, Johnson & Johnson. “The WHO prequalification of this easier-to-swallow formulation is a critical step in our efforts to help young children suffering from devastating diseases.”

The chewable formulation is also useful for older children and adults who need treatment for STH, particularly in communities that have limited access to clean water.

Johnson & Johnson's Long Commitment to Helping Fight STH 
Since 2006, Johnson & Johnson has delivered more than 1.4 billion doses of its parasite-fighting medication to approximately 800 million children worldwide.

Six years later, the company joined other pharmaceutical companies and organizations, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to endorse the London Declaration on Neglected Tropical Diseases—a landmark pledge to donate existing treatments and develop new tools to help combat these illnesses.

At that time, Johnson & Johnson committed to giving 200 million doses of its medication annually through 2020 via a donation program operated by the WHO. Now, with the WHO prequalification, the company will begin distributing the new pediatric formulation as part of its donations this year, with a full transition to the chewable tablets starting in 2020.

“Beyond drug donations, we are also actively collaborating with partners to improve STH diagnostics, monitoring and evaluation to allow for better data collection and decision-making,” says Jaak Peeters, Head of Johnson & Johnson Global Public Health, Janssen-Cilag GmbH. “We want to help the global health community identify sustainable, long-term solutions to reduce the prevalence of intestinal worms in children and adults alike.”