J&J aims to 'save legs, change lives' with new peripheral artery disease awareness effort

Peripheral artery disease, or PAD, is a leading cause of amputations in the U.S. But the disease can be silent, so millions of Americans—especially in the Black community—don’t know they have it.

Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen unit hopes to change that with its new “Save Legs. Change Lives. Spot Peripheral Artery Disease Now” initiative.

J&J unveiled the multiyear campaign earlier this month at the American College of Cardiology conference in Washington, D.C. It is part of J&J’s broader $100 million “Our Race to Health Equity” initiative, which is aimed at "eradicating racial and social injustice as a public health threat.”

PAD disproportionately impacts Black Americans, who are twice as likely as whites to have the disease and are up to four times more likely to lose a limb because of it, the campaign notes.

The chronic condition causes the blood vessels to narrow, reducing blood flow to the limbs, especially the legs. While 8.5 million people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with PAD, as many as 20 million may have it, according to J&J.

“Tragically, PAD amputations are directly correlated to an increased risk of death,” said Richard Browne, M.D., Janssen’s medical director of cardiovascular strategy. He said an alarming 70% of people who have leg amputations due to PAD die within three years.

The main symptom of the disease is leg pain when walking, but it's asymptomatic in 40% of patients. Left untreated, it can lead to heart attack, stroke or amputation.

However, a simple test known as the ABI, or ankle brachial index, can catch the disease. The screening takes about 10 to 15 minutes and involves taking blood pressure readings in a person’s arm and leg and comparing them.

As part of the campaign, Janssen has rolled out its "empower PAD" mobile health unit to bring the test into local communities. The vehicle began touring the southeast, where PAD rates are high, in 2020 and is back on the road and moving “full steam ahead” after a pause during the pandemic, said Browne.

He said 90 screening events are being planned around the country for 2022, with a goal of testing between 50 and 60 people at each location. The emphasis is on reaching Black Americans, who are more likely to have asymptomatic PAD. The itinerary is continually being updated, but the next planned stop is Philadelphia at the end of April.

The screening unit is just one part of the three-pronged initiative, which focuses on research, collaboration and education. On the research side, the company is working with physicians to produce white papers on best practices and has used Medicare data to develop a heat map tool so health systems can identify where patients may be "exposed to inadequate PAD care,"  Browne said.

Janssen is also collaborating with health organizations like the American Heart Association, which is working to reduce amputations by 20% by 2030, and is developing a "Save Legs" campaign website where patients can find resources about disease.

Johnson & Johnson markets blockbuster blood thinner Xarelto to reduce the risk of a sudden decrease of blood flow to the legs, major amputation, serious heart problems or stroke in PAD patients. Last year, the drug, coupled with aspirin, won an expanded FDA approval to include patients who’ve recently undergone surgery to unblock arteries in their legs because of the disease.