A tireless advocate for neglected diseases
Alan Fairlamb
Professor of Biochemistry
University of Dundee
When elected to the Academy of Medical Sciences earlier this year, the citation for Prof Alan Fairlamb stated that he was ‘a tireless advocate for neglected diseases’. Professor of Biochemistry at the School of Life Sciences, Dundee, Prof Fairlamb was one of the 250 scientists involved in the genome sequencing of the parasites that cause sleeping sickness, Chagas disease, and leishmaniasis. His team is one of six that received an £8 million grant from the Wellcome Trust in October 2005, to translate basic research discoveries into candidate drugs for these three neglected diseases. The goal is to identify at least one preclinical candidate for one of the kinetoplastid diseases within 5 years.

Professor Fairlamb is a member of DNDi’s Scientific Advisory Committee and one of his projects to discover trypanothione reductase inhibitors is in the DNDi portfolio.

Current paucity of translational research
My colleagues and I have been increasingly frustrated in our attempts to collaborate in a meaningful and productive manner with the pharmaceutical industry. Understandably, given an increasingly competitive economic market, major pharmaceutical companies cannot commit to drug discovery against diseases affecting the poorest.

MSF has cogently identified 3 major gaps in the production and distribution of new medicines for neglected diseases. These map roughly as "discovery", "development" and "delivery". We aim to try and fill the first gap, i.e., the discovery of credible leads for clinical trials, so that DNDi and other agencies can focus their resources on the gaps in clinical development, distribution and access.

Marrying the best of drug industry practice with academic excellence
At the University of Dundee, we have all the facilities and expertise in-house or available to us via contract research organisations to carry out the drug discovery process. We have appointed Dr Julie Frearson from BioFocus to head up our High-Throughput Screening facility to help us identify hit compounds for development into optimised leads. We are seeking to appoint an experienced Director of Drug Discovery from industry to drive forward projects rapidly and efficiently and to terminate projects that are highly unlikely to lead to a new drug, no matter how interesting they may be from an academic view. The other 15 staff dedicated to the project will be recruited largely from pharma. Success will be judged on progress towards discovering a new drug rather than the number of publications produced.

R&D in academia is piecemeal and fragmented. But it is unrealistic for us to expect the pharmaceutical companies to solve all of the world's needs for new medicines. Our initiative offers a new model for drug discovery for neglected diseases of developing and developed countries alike. If our efforts are successful, then this will no doubt stimulate similar approaches from other groups tackling other diseases.

Role of scientists in mobilizing R&D efforts for neglected diseases
It is extremely important that all leading scientists continue to draw attention to the plight of people affected by neglected diseases. If the general public were more aware, then they would become more engaged.

I regularly talk to the media and the general public to increase awareness. However, the media tends to respond more readily to news about disasters such as tsunamis, hurricanes, earthquakes and starvation, all of which have a tremendous visual impact, rather than the diffuse and unremitting deaths from little known diseases spread across large geographical areas. DNDi could help by obtaining more film footage or video clips that could be incorporated into lectures and media presentations by scientists and clinicians.

Advocating for more government support
I am always happy to meet with politicians and make the case for more support but I suspect that public pressure is more effective than a single individual.

Published by Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative - 1 Place St Gervais 1201 Geneva Switzerland
Editor: Jaya Banerji - Tel: +41 22 906 9230 - Fax: +41 22 906 9231 - www.dndi.org