We're in it to win it in the fight against today's most daunting health challenges, from AIDS to Ebola and Alzheimer's disease, and we don't plan on stopping until we find a cure. Today, Alzheimer's disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S., claiming more lives than diabetes or kidney disease. And given the fact that someone in the U.S. develops Alzheimer's disease every 66 seconds, we need to make huge strides today in order to make an impact tomorrow—and make good on our commitment to changing the trajectory of human health.
Indeed, nothing short of that will suffice—especially if you ask Simon Lovestone, one of the preeminent experts in Alzheimer's disease and neurodegenerative diseases in the world. Simon recently joined our team as the Neurodegeneration Disease Area Stronghold Leader at Janssen Research & Development, LLC, one of the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson. Here, we talk about what brought Simon to our team, what he's doing to make Alzheimer's disease history—and how you can join us to help conquer this illness in your lifetime.
Simon's Journey to Johnson & Johnson
Simon may be a brand-new hire at Janssen but he immediately found himself surrounded by familiar faces on his first day on the job.
"As I was being introduced to my colleagues, I suddenly realized just how many of them I knew already from my previous work," Simon recalled. That previous work includes 18 years in academia, with 14 of them as a professor of old age psychiatry at Kings College, and four as a professor of translational neuroscience at Oxford. And all throughout that time, Simon was consistently collaborating with teams of doctors, scientists and researchers at Janssen.
"In a way, then, while this might be my first year with Janssen," Simon said, "the collaborative spirit at Johnson & Johnson and Janssen is something I've been getting to know for a decade."
Having built a successful career in academia, Simon was looking for a new challenge—and a chance to make an even greater impact on the future of treatment and care for Alzheimer's disease.
"What I realized is that the best place to do drug discovery is not necessarily in academia, but in industry," he reflected. "That's why I joined Janssen. I wanted to be at the heart of effective drug discovery."
The Four Phases of Alzheimer's Disease Research
In Simon's telescopic view, the history of Alzheimer's disease research has been characterized by three distinct phases—and now, we're in the fourth.
That story begins in the early 20th century with the German psychiatrist and pathologist Alois Alzheimer, who, through long-term study of a female psychiatric patient, Auguste D., discovered the characteristic brain anomalies—plaques and neurofibrillary tangles—of the eponymous disease.
It was pioneering work, but the early momentum of Alzheimer's disease discovery proved fleeting. By the mid-1900s, which Simon disparaged as "the shameful period," interest in Alzheimer's disease research had all but dried up.
By the early 1980s, thankfully, that began to change, based on an increasingly sophisticated understanding of the molecular basis for Alzheimer's disease. Thus began the third phase of Alzheimer's disease research. 1983 saw the first National Alzheimer's Disease Month, increasing awareness around the disease. It was during this key transitional period that Simon began his career.
Today, Simon believes we've entered into a fourth phase in which game-changing breakthroughs are just around the corner. "We’ve been steadily enhancing our understanding of the molecular basis and mechanisms of Alzheimer's disease," he said. "Now, in this fourth phase, we're translating that understanding into therapies that have the potential to change the lives of millions.
"The challenge—and the mandate—for those of us working on Alzheimer's disease today is to ensure that we make the progress that we should."
So far, what has not surprised Simon is "the quality of the scientists at Janssen—and the quality of the science," he emphasized.
He believes that applying artificial intelligence (AI) and big data to Alzheimer's disease research—work that is already underway at Janssen—will enhance our understanding of how the disease works. "We need to use the enormous human data sets now available to further drug development,” he said.
He's also excited to seek new targets for therapy, spearhead disease-modification trials as well as trials involving experimental medicine, and lead the search for biomarkers that might enable earlier diagnoses.
"Janssen has a fabulous track record in these areas—which is part of the reason I came here," Simon explained.
And more than almost any other company, Johnson & Johnson has a great history of forming public-private partnerships to drive preclinical trials. That’s the space we need to be in.
Other Areas of Exploration in the Fight Against Alzheimer's Disease
Recently, we launched a landmark clinical trial, CHARIOT: PRO, to study whether cognitive changes in a pre-Alzheimer's disease population are predictors of patients at the early stages of Alzheimer's disease. And as Simon mentioned, we're also leveraging the power of AI to understand how Alzheimer's disease alters human speech.
"Alzheimer's disease research has transformed in the past five years alone," Simon said. "There have been tremendous initiatives undertaken—and Johnson & Johnson has been at the forefront of many of them. We've been at the table with world leaders, and alongside our work in drug development and research, the company has been participating in political processes to create change and drive progress."
Other signs of progress that Simon cited include the push to include Alzheimer's disease among the U.N.'s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and the formation of the World Dementia Council, plus new sources of funding like the Dementia Discovery Fund (DDF), where one of Simon's colleagues, Husseini Manji, M.D., Global Therapeutic Area Head for Neuroscience at Janssen Research & Development, currently serves on the Scientific Advisory Board.
Join Johnson & Johnson Today
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