Human trials show promise for new dengue fever pill

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According to a small human challenge trial conducted in the United States, a pill manufactured by Johnson & Johnson against dengue fever appeared to protect against a version of the virus in a few patients.

There is no specific medicine available at present for dengue, a disease that is on the rise while currently no specific medicine is available to treat it, according to the company, which presented their research at the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene Annual Meeting in Chicago.

As far as I am aware, this is the first time an antiviral has been shown to have antiviral properties against dengue, according to Marnix Van Loock, who oversees emerging pathogens research for J&J’s Janssen division.

During human challenge trials, researchers deliberately expose healthy volunteers to pathogens so that they will be able to test a vaccine or treatment against them, or to better understand the disease that they cause.

Despite the fact that dengue fever is frequently asymptomatic, some patients also complain of extreme joint pain and spasms caused by the virus, making it also known as “break bone fever.”

Millions of infections occur each year, resulting in tens of thousands of deaths, with the disease being a scourge in much of Asia and Latin America for a long time. In the view of Jeremy Farrar, chief scientist for the World Health Organisation, it is likely that this disease will spread further in the near future as the effects of climate change will make more areas hospitable to the mosquitoes that transmit it.

A high dose of the J&J tablet was administered to 10 participants as part of a research study conducted with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health five days before they received an injection of a specific strain of dengue, with the aim of testing its effectiveness. During the next 21 days, they continued to take the tablet for a period of 21 days.

After 85 days of observation after exposure to the pathogen, six of ten individuals did not display any detectable dengue virus in their blood and did not show any indication that their immune systems had reacted to the infection after being exposed.

Six of the participants receiving both a placebo injection and a dengue injection in a placebo group tested positive for dengue infection. To reduce symptoms of the virus, trial participants were regularly treated by trained medical professionals as needed, and a weaker strain of the virus was used when necessary to reduce symptoms.

J&J has stated that preliminary data indicate that the drug, which is currently being tested in Phase II studies, may prove effective in preventing the four distinct types of dengue in areas where the illness is widespread, according to the company. The next step will be to test whether the drug can be used as a treatment.

Through the inhibition of the activity of two viral proteins, the medication prevents the virus from replicating and prevents it from spreading. The company said that all of the trial participants tolerated it well, according to their report.

A crucial concern for the future, as it was for the dengue vaccine which the WHO supported earlier in the month, will be how to ensure the access to the new medicine, assuming that it does work on a broad scale, in the many low- and middle-income countries where it is most needed.

It is still early days, Van Loock said, but he added that we are working on it.

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