Johnson & Johnson has unveiled plans to keep itself at the top of the pile in healthcare which include the launch of five new pharmaceuticals by the end of 2007 and another seven-ten by 2010.

The firm laid out its strategy for future growth at a meeting with analysts at its headquarters in New Brunswick, New Jersey and vice chairman Christine Poon claimed that J&J “is uniquely positioned with its breadth of businesses and flexible operating model to outperform its competitors in a $4 trillion global market for health solutions.”

"Being broadly-based is a cornerstone of our success and will amplify our growth going forward," she said, and its strength in the three major areas of healthcare – consumer, medical devices/diagnostics and pharmaceuticals – has served J&J well thus far. However, analysts were interested in how the latter segment is shaping up for the future.

J&J says it is doing pretty well and noted that its pharmaceutical revenues for last year reached $23.2 billion, which would make it the fifth largest drugmaker and third largest biotech business in the world if it were a stand-alone company. Joe Scodari, chairman of J&J’s pharmaceutical segment, said “the lion's share of future industry growth will go to those companies with the size, scale and know-how to take advantage of the rapidly changing dynamics of this marketplace - both scientific and economic. We believe we are one of those companies."

Most robust pipeline in firm’s history

J&J spent $5 billion in R&D in 2006, Mr Scodari noted, but what is important is “the level of productivity that this investment generates and we believe our pipeline is more robust today than at any point in our history”. Four new products were cleared for sale in 2006, including Invega (paliperidone), an antipsychotic derived from the company's top-selling drug Risperdal (risperidone) but one of the highlights of the pipeline is paliperidone palmitate.

The latter is in Phase III trials and J&J says that paliperidone palmitate uses a unique nanoparticle formulation to offer “excellent efficacy and a favourable side-effect profile in a long-acting, once-monthly injection that is convenient and easy to use”, thus improving compliance, a major challenge among patients with schizophrenia. Its late-stage central nervous system pipeline also includes carisbamate, a novel treatment in for epilepsy that has demonstrated broad anti-seizure.

Other compounds to look out for include two anti-bacterials that are currently undergoing review at the US Food and Drug Administration – doripenem, for the treatment of complicated urinary tract infections as well as nosocomial pneumonia, and ceftobiprole (partnered with Basilea) which, if approved, will be the first broad-spectrum cephalosporin that as a single agent provides coverage against both gram-positive and gram-negative infections, as well as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

High hopes for rivaroxaban

Also progressing well are two next-generation non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors for HIV, TMC-125 (Phase III) and TMC 278 (Phase III later this year), while telaprevir, which is expected to be a first-in-class protease inhibitor targeted specifically at hepatitis C, is expected to move into Phase III by the end of this year. In cardiovascular, rivaroxaban, a novel treatment for venous thromboembolism partnered with Bayer, is an oral rather than intravenous or subcutaneous treatment, which will allow patients to be easily treated when they are in the hospital, as well as when they return home. Results from a Phase III study of rivaroxaban are expected to be presented later this year.

J&J has a number of oncology treatments in late-stage trials, including Zarnestra (tipifarnib) and Dacogen (decitabine) for acute myelogenous leukaemia, while in immunology, CNTO-1275 for psoriasis and CNTO-148 (golimumab) for rheumatoid arthritis are both in Phase III. Also close to a filing is dapoxetine, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor that has been studied in more than 5,000 men for premature ejaculation.

"Our pipeline encompasses a broad range of therapeutic areas, giving us the opportunity to participate in a variety of large and growing markets," concluded Mr Scodari. "Just as importantly, we're able to 'see the whole field' and take the knowledge, technology, talent and capabilities we have in one therapeutic area and leverage it across the others."

Despite J&J’s confidence, the analysts were less enthusiastic, claiming that not enough information about the pipeline was given to reassure investors that the new drugs will cover the anticipated future loss of revenues from its mainstay products, especially Risperdal, which posted $4.2 billion in sales in 2006.