Today, Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi) signed an agreement to conduct a joint research project with the Kitasato Institute in Japan to find a treatment for human African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness), a disease that kills tens of thousands in Africa each year.
The aim of the project is to identify natural substances that are highly active against a parasite that causes sleeping sickness.
Under the agreement, by September 2005, the Kitasato Institute will test 300-400 natural substances from its libraries for activity against the T rypanosoma brucei parasite. These substances range from microbial metabolites to traditional Japanese and Chinese herbal medicines and plant extracts. In the next phase, around 2,000 other natural product extracts will be tested.
Transmitted by tsetse flies, sleeping sickness is a fatal disease if left untreated. The number of people afflicted by the disease is increasing due to war, civil unrest, disruption of public health service systems, and economic decline. Currently, 60 million people in 36 countries in sub-Saharan Africa are in danger of contracting the disease. New drugs are urgently needed, especially for second stage sleeping sickness for which the current, most commonly used treatment is arsenic-based melarsoprol, a highly toxic drug that kills one in twenty of the patients it is supposed to cure.
“Natural products have been the storehouse of cures since medical practice began. For example, quinine and artemisinin have been used to treat malaria, taxol used for cancer, and digitalis for heart conditions. Our collaborative partnership with Kitasato will tap into the rich potential of natural substances to help us find new drugs for sleeping sickness and other neglected diseases, for example, leishmaniasis and Chagas disease,” s aid Dr S. Croft, R&D Director of DNDi, who is in Tokyo for the Agreement ceremony.
“This is the start of a long-term research collaboration between DNDi and the Kitasato Institute that will make a significant contribution to bringing new treatments to patients suffering from neglected diseases,” said Professor S. Omura, President of the Kitasato Institute.
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The Kitasato Institute was founded by Shibasaburo Kitasato in 1914, and has since contributed to the improvement of public health through research on the causes, prevention and treatment of various diseases including infectious diseases. Dr. Kitasato succeeded in the pure cultivation of the tetanus bacillus, followed by the discovery of the tetanus antibody and establishment of tetanus serotherapy. Since then Dr. Kitasato’s colleagues and the researchers of the Kitasato Institute have discovered numerous anti-infectious drugs.
The Kitasato Institute has a long history of research to find anti-infectious and other bioactive natural substances of microbial and plant origins . Such natural products from the Kitasato Institute have been evaluated in many unique bioassay systems and several hundred compounds have been found to be active. Some of these active compounds have been developed as clinically available medicines for human use and animals by collaborative research.
Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi) is a not-for-profit drug development initiative established in 2003 by four publicly-funded research organisations – Kenya Medical Research Institute, Indian Council for Medical Research, Oswaldo Cruz Foundation Brazil, Malaysian Ministry of Health; a private research institute, the Institut Pasteur; an international research organisation WHO’s Tropical Diseases Research programme; and an international humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières.
DNDi aims to develop new, improved and field-relevant drugs for neglected diseases such as leishmaniasis, human African trypanosomiasis, and Chagas disease that afflict the very poor in developing countries. It will raise awareness of the urgent need to develop drugs for these diseases and use DNDi projects to strengthen existing capacity in disease-endemic countries. In addition, it will build public responsibility and leadership in addressing the needs of neglected patients.
DNDi currently has 18 projects in its portfolio, at different stages of development ranging from early discovery screens to phase III clinical trials. Ten of these are discovery projects to identify novel lead-compounds against trypanosomiasis and/or leishmaniasis, three are in pre-clinical development and five are in clinical development at end of the pipeline.