Wellcome Trust and KU Leuven announce collaboration with Janssen for development of dengue antiviral drugs

Researchers at the University of Leuven (KU Leuven) are joining forces with Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc. (Janssen) and the Wellcome Trust to discover and develop candidate antiviral drugs for the prevention and treatment of dengue infection.

The collaboration will build on an existing three-year drug discovery programme at the Rega Institute and the Centre for Drug Design and Discovery (CD3) at KU Leuven, supported by a Wellcome Trust Seeding Drug Discovery Award. This effort resulted in the identification of a series of chemical compounds that are highly potent inhibitors of dengue virus replication. The compounds have a novel mechanism of action, are active against all four serotypes of the dengue virus including clinical isolates, have a high barrier to resistance and have generated proof-of-concept data in animal models.

The alliance with the experienced Janssen Infectious Diseases and Vaccines team (based in Beerse, Belgium) and an additional Seeding Drug Discovery Award from the Wellcome Trust will enable the team to progress the compounds towards a first-in-class drug candidate for the prevention and treatment of infections with dengue virus. At the end of the collaboration period, Janssen will have the option to further develop the candidate drug towards regulatory approval, with the goal of bringing the drug to patients on a global basis.

Under the terms of the agreement, Janssen will make an upfront payment and milestone payments based on achieving development, regulatory and sales goals. KU Leuven is also eligible to receive royalty payments on net sales of future products discovered or developed under the agreement.

Professor Johan Neyts of the Rega Institute, KU Leuven, said: "It was a great experience to work with CD3 and the Wellcome Trust to discover this new class of dengue antivirals, which can be further developed by Janssen as the first potential medication to prevent and treat infections with the dengue virus."

Patrick Chaltin, Managing Director of CD3 at KU Leuven, added: "This agreement again confirms the value of combining excellent academic research with the strengths and capabilities of CD3 for discovering innovative therapies. We are very excited to continue the development of the dengue antivirals together with Janssen and the Wellcome Trust."

Dengue virus is endemic in almost all tropical and subtropical areas of the world. The virus is transmitted by mosquitoes and causes a severe and debilitating fever, rash, and muscle and joint pain, sometimes referred to as 'breakbone fever'. In some cases, infection can lead to internal haemorrhage and can be fatal.

Recent estimates indicate that there may be as many as 390 million dengue infections across the globe each year, of which 96 million develop symptoms associated with the infection; however, there are currently no approved vaccines that can prevent infection or approved drugs that can stop the replication and spread of the dengue virus. Current approaches to treating the condition focus on alleviating symptoms.

Ted Bianco, Director of Technology Transfer and Acting Director of the Wellcome Trust, said: "We urgently need dengue medications that combat the virus rather than the symptoms of infection. This agreement highlights the importance of seed funds, like the awards provided under Seeding Drug Discovery, to reduce the risk of drug discovery programmes so that they become attractive to partners with the ability to bring a product to market.

"We welcome this strategic collaboration, bringing together a world-leading academic drug discovery group and an industry partner with an outstanding track record in the development of antivirals, to give the programme the best possible chances of success."

Notes for editors

About the Rega Institute

The research into the dengue virus is led by Professor Johan Neyts of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the Rega Institute of KU Leuven. Founded in 1425, KU Leuven is the oldest and largest university in Belgium, located in Leuven (Flanders), with a wealth of excellent research and a strong reputation and track-record in technology transfer through KU Leuven Research & Development (LRD). More than 6,000 researchers from more than 120 countries concentrate on curiosity-driven and ground-breaking strategic research, as well as targeted and demand-driven research. The Laboratory of Virology and Chemotherapy of the Rega Institute specialises particularly in antiviral research. Medications discovered at the Rega Institute are currently in clinical study for the treatment of infections with the hepatitis C virus or are successfully being used for the treatment of, for example, AIDS, hepatitis B and infections caused by herpes viruses.

About the Centre for Drug Design and Discovery

The Centre for Drug Design and Discovery (CD3) aims to promote the discovery and development of innovative medicines for all kinds of diseases. By providing the necessary expertise and financial resources, CD3 ensures that fundamental biomedical research carried out by universities and small biotech companies is translated into more usable results and promising molecules for new medicines. CD3 was set up at the end of 2006 by KU Leuven Research & Development and the European Investment Fund (EIF) and currently is a fund of 24 million euro.

About the Wellcome Trust

The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable foundation dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health. It supports the brightest minds in biomedical research and the medical humanities. The Trust’s breadth of support includes public engagement, education and the application of research to improve health. It is independent of both political and commercial interests.