Mario Sturion
Director General

Game Changer: Stop Disease in Its Tracks

Wed, 09/06/2017 - 15:52

Mexico has a clear and impactful chronic disease problem caused, among other reasons, by the lack of prevention at primary-level care. Many are afraid to go for check-ups in case a problem is discovered, thus worsening conditions. There are also those that refuse to believe they are ill, shown clearly in the results of the 2016 ENSANUT survey. Better prevention and early detection is key to changing this panorama, something Janssen, the pharmaceutical division of US behemoth Johnson & Johnson, is working on.

The company is also focusing on innovation to stop diseases in their tracks and prevent patients from reaching critical stages. “Our vision is to have a world without disease, including cancer. With that mindset, we created an area for disease interception. This looks at how we can intervene in the pathway of the disease before it even becomes a disease,” says Mario Sturion, Director General of Janssen. “There are many studies that show that the best investment is in prevention. However, preventive solutions are still in phases that include nutrition, sports and moving around but there are no solutions developed to test populations at risk of developing diabetes during pregnancy. If detected and treated in a timely manner, this problem will never develop. It is too early to estimate the full impact, but it will be huge. It will be a game changer.”

Prostate cancer, one of the areas Janssen is working on, is the most common cancer diagnosed in men in Mexico, accounting for 6,152 deaths in 2014, 13.8 percent of all male cancer deaths in Mexico, according to the WHO. That supports the importance of early diagnosis for this disease: when diagnosed in local and regional stages, the survival rate is almost 100 percent, which plummets to 28 percent when detected in distant stages, according to data from the American Cancer Association.

“In prostate cancer, there is also a new treatment that will be launched in one to two years. We believe it should be prioritized at the same level as breast cancer, because prostate is the second cause of death among adult males,” says Sturion. “Genomics and immuno-oncology drugs will play a role in this, leading cancer to become more of a chronic disease.”

To work on prevention, Janssen collects statistics through its website from volunteer patients. “For Mexican healthcare, prevention is still a hope but it is a challenging area to move in. The actions, resources, programs and initiatives are still limited across the country,” he says. In this sense, the company is also working on a solution for treatment-resistant depression, the stage of the disease when people begin to have suicidal thoughts.

In Mexico alone, there are more than 6,400 suicides each year, according to INEGI 2015 figures, many of which result from untreated or poorly treated major depression. “There is a critical need for drugs that can interrupt the thought processes that can lead to suicide in patients with severe depression, particularly as most current antidepressants can take weeks to have an e ect. This drug blocks the neuro-transmissions and the e ects are unbelievable,” says Sturion. The WHO estimates that depression a ects 322 million people globally as of 2017. It is the first cause of disability and is a factor in suicide.

In addition, Janssen is making strides in HIV treatment. “We produce an inhibitor called EVIPLERA for HIV patients and we have developed a booster, PREZCOBIX, to optimize results in patients. It will be launched in 2017,” says Sturion, adding that “the company is also working on the development of an HIV vaccine that has shown promising results in primates in phase I trials, potentially ready in a six to seven-year time frame.”