Johnson & Johnson, looking for its Tremfya niche, starts up new trial program in Crohn's

The Tremfya Crohn's program will consist of three studies. (Johnson & Johnson)

Johnson & Johnson immunology newcomer Tremfya is looking to follow in the footsteps of its big brother.

MorphoSys, partnered with the New Jersey drugmaker’s Janssen unit, said Tuesday that the drug giant had started up a phase 2/3 clinical trial program in Crohn’s disease, reaching for an indication that J&J immunology blockbuster Stelara bagged in 2016.

RELATED: J&J's Stelara, squeezed in psoriasis, grabs new market with Crohn's approval

Three studies—one phase 2 and two phase 3—will make up the program, which Janssen expects to enroll about 2,000 patients, MorphoSys said, with chief scientific officer Dr. Markus Enzelberger adding that Crohn’s is “a severe illness where significant unmet needs exist despite the availability of some effective therapies.”

Those therapies include anti-TNF giants such as world-leading Humira from AbbVie and Johnson & Johnson’s own Remicade—as well as biosimilars of those drugs that are either already on the market or waiting to launch.

The leading drugs in Tremfya’s group of IL-17/IL-23 drugs, though, are going in different directions. Neither Novartis’ Cosentyx nor Eli Lilly’s Taltz are in Crohn’s trials; instead, both drugmakers are focusing on axial spondyloarthritis.

RELATED: Lilly's Taltz takes Cosentyx rivalry into psoriatic arthritis with new FDA nod

In addition to psoriasis, though, where Tremfya is facing off against those rivals, psoriatic arthritis could soon be a battleground for the trio. Janssen is conducting phase 3 trials in that condition, and Taltz picked up an FDA green light to treat it last December. Cosentyx, meanwhile, won its psoriatic arthritis nod in early 2016 alongside a go-ahead for ankylosing spondylitis.