‘Within 10 years we will be able to cure cancer’. A bold statement? Paul Stoffels (CSO J&J) doesn’t think so. He is a believer. He is also persistent, passionate, likes to be challenged and challenges his co-workers. And, he conquered the deadly HIV-virus. A man with a vision shares his thoughts with BioVox.
Paul Stoffels: "I am aware that some people might think this is too far-fetched. Most likely these are the same people that didn’t believe Dr. Janssen when he claimed we would revolutionize HIV-treatment. Well, we proved them wrong.
Today HIV is a chronic disease, managed by one-pill-a-day.
The same goes for Hepatitis C. Ten years ago when we started our quest for a better treatment, the facts were grim: 30-35% cure, 12-24 therapies, with many side effects. Today: 90% cure, 3 months therapy, patients are cured with full recovery of the liver.
So I am quite confident we can make the same statement for certain cancers. Combining direct anti-cancer agents with very specific immune-oncology and diagnostics, precision medicine boosting the immune system and blocking replication will eradicate various tumours in the next 10 years."
Joining forces and capabilities creates easy access to progress
"Other important health problems we face include diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and infectious diseases. Diabetes will remain a major and complex health issue, but we will be able to better control and manage the consequences of the disease. There’s still a long way to go for Alzheimer’s disease, although a lot of progress has been made in the last few years, especially in early diagnostics, identifying patients years before symptoms appear. At Janssen we conduct studies with high risk patients demonstrating mild cognitive impairment, predicting which individuals are most likely to develop Alzheimer’s. A recent Biogen early-stage trial with a drug called Aducanumab is very encouraging; it demonstrates for the first time that a drug targeting plaque build-up slowed cognitive decline in patients with early and mild forms of Alzheimer’s disease.
I strongly believe in bringing capabilities together to move science forward.
The G7 has recognized Alzheimer's to be a gigantic problem. They are coaxing scientific communities worldwide to set up collaborations that will accelerate the progress. We are closely involved and strongly support these initiatives. It should shorten the path 2 to 3 years for new therapies to reach the market, through better coordination of clinical studies and regulators, and development of biomarkers and diagnostics."
Prevention is key
"There is still a long way to go in preventing disease and protecting people from getting sick. With Crucell, we acquired a very efficient vaccine production platform. This year we will be producing 2 million vaccines in mere 20L vessels, providing 100-fold improvement. The PER.C6® technology was also used to produce the 400,000 Ebola vaccines that now await large clinical trials. It took us only 6 months, starting from preclinical material. The investment was massive - 300 people and a total investment of US$200 million, in addition to the global effort and collaborations amongst industry, research organizations and healthcare workers to control the different outbreaks.
The Ebola non-human primate studies that the US army conducted with our vaccine are very promising and provide 100% protection. We are discussing with the FDA and EMEA the criteria that qualify this laboratory animal data as a predictive model for humans, allowing us to use the vaccine to counteract the next outbreak."
Be humble and keep an open mind
I don’t care if we solve a medical problem with science from a Janssen team or the innovations of a partner.
"We look at the problem and search for the best solution – in-house or outside – to be implemented in the shortest possible time frame. Within Janssen we have vast scanning capabilities, we are continuously scouting for new innovations that can make a difference in people’s lives. And that is all that truly matters."
Dr. Paul Stoffels is Chief Scientific Officer with Johnson & Johnson and is the company group’s Chairman. Top 5 in a global company with >125.000 employees, he sets the enterprise-wide innovation agenda and is a member of the Johnson & Johnson Executive Committee. He joined Johnson & Johnson in 2002 with the acquisition of Virco and Tibotec, where he was Chief Executive Officer of Virco and Chairman of Tibotec, and led the development of a number of leading products for the treatment of HIV. Paul studied Medicine at the University of Diepenbeek and the University of Antwerp in Belgium, and Infectious Diseases and Tropical Medicine at the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp, Belgium. He began his career as a physician in Africa, focusing on HIV and tropical disease research.