Dundee, UK, and Geneva, Switzerland, June 22, 2009-On the eve of an international meeting bringing together 200 African researchers to discuss progress on research for neglected tropical diseases (NTD), the Drug Discovery Unit of the University of Dundee, and Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi) announced today that they have initiated a collaboration on the discovery and development of affordable and effective therapies for visceral leishmaniasis (kala azar).
Transmitted by the sandfly, the parasite Leishmania causes three different forms of disease, of which visceral leishmaniasis (VL) is the most severe. Fatal if left untreated, VL puts 200 million people at risk in 70 countries. Approximately 500,000 new cases and 51,000 deaths are reported to occur each year, although it is estimated that only 30% of cases are reported. A significant proportion of clinical cases occur in children.
The disease became well known in the UK after television presenter Ben Fogle contracted it on a trip to South America. He was left seriously ill but recovered after hospital treatment.
The collaboration between Dundee and DNDi is worth £1.8m over 5 years and has been established for an initial period of three years and may be extended to five years. It will focus on identifying molecules capable of killing the Leishmania parasite, which are suitable for further development into safe and effective medicines for clinical trials by DNDi’s partner organisations.
The DDU will look to use the current knowledge and potential medicines developed within its African sleeping sickness programme, to act as starting points for the discovery of medicines for leishmaniasis.
This funding will seed the development of a dedicated leishmaniasis drug discovery group at Dundee, which will seek to leverage the expertise of researchers from Dundee by forming consortia with leading academic centres such as the Structural Genomics Consortium and London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM).
The collaboration has been formed to specifically address unmet patient needs as, although the number of treatments available for VL has grown over the past decade, all of these drugs have significant drawbacks - in terms either of route of administration, length of treatment (21 to 28 days), toxicity or cost - which limit their utilisation in disease-endemic areas.
“This collaboration helps to expand the global efforts to aid the discovery of drugs to treat the neglected diseases, which continue to blight the health and wealth of many developing countries. This seed funding from DNDi will act as a catalyst to enable us to build from our current focus on African sleeping sickness, into other neglected diseases such as leishmaniasis.” said Paul Wyatt, Director of drug Discovery, Drug Discovery Unit.
Shing Chang, Director of Research & Development at DNDi, added, “This partnership is an important step in DNDi’s efforts to fortify and to intensify drug research and development for neglected diseases as we work to provide better, low-cost treatments, and to rekindle the hopes of the many people who suffer from these diseases in the poorest regions of the world.”
The Drug Discovery Unit (DDU) (see http://www.drugdiscovery.dundee.ac.uk) is a fully integrated drug discovery operation based within a world class Life Sciences research environment. Its remit is to tackle both neglected diseases (trypanosomiasis, leishmaniasis and malaria) and early stage small molecule validation of novel targets & mechanisms across a range of potential therapeutics areas. The DDU works to Biotech style philosophy and standards incorporating, dynamic, goal driven project management based on Target Product Profiles and Compound Selection Criteria. The project goals are therapeutic area dependent but range from quality leads demonstrating disease model proof of concept, through to pre-clinical candidates.
The Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi) is an independent, not-for-profit product development partnership working to research and develop new and improved treatments for neglected diseases such as leishmaniasis, human African trypanosomiasis (HAT), Chagas disease, and malaria. DNDi was founded in 2003 by the humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) along with five research institutions in Brazil, France, India, Kenya, and Malaysia.
With the objective to address unmet patient needs for these diseases, DNDi has developed the largest ever R&D portfolio for the kinetoplastid diseases and has already made available two new antimalarial treatments: “ASAQ” in 2007 with sanofi-aventis, and “ASMQ” in 2008 with Farmanguinhos in Brazil. In December 2008, DNDi, Epicentre, and MSF released promising Phase III clinical study results of NECT (nifurtimox-eflornithine combination therapy), which show NECT is a safe, effective treatment for the advanced stage of HAT. To date, DNDi has secured funding from a number of public and private donors including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the European Union, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America. For further information, please consult www.dndi.org.