AstraZeneca and the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi) today announce an agreement to collaborate on drug-compound screening for leishmaniasis, Chagas disease, and sleeping sickness, three neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) which together affect nearly 10 million people worldwide. Novel drug candidates to emerge from this collaboration will bolster the drug development pipeline for new medicines urgently needed by millions of patients.
In the new partnership, AstraZeneca will provide to DNDi 15,000 compounds that have the potential for activity against leishmaniasis, Chagas disease, and sleeping sickness. The screening activities, coordinated by DNDi, will be performed at Institut Pasteur Korea (IPK). If active compounds against any of the three diseases are identified as ‘hits’, DNDi and AstraZeneca will jointly assess their potential as starting points for future medicines.‘As a global pharmaceutical company which conducts a significant amount of infectious disease research, AstraZeneca recognizes the urgent need to deliver new medicines for people who suffer from neglected tropical diseases. Sharing science beyond our own labs with leading organizations like DNDi is a great way to tackle these complex diseases that have gone unchecked for far too long’, said Manos Perros, Head of the AstraZeneca Infection Innovative Medicines Unit.
The visceral form of leishmaniasis has one of the highest death rates of all NTDs, killing up to 60,000 people each year mainly in Africa and South Asia. The cutaneous form disables and deforms 1.5 million people throughout the Middle East and Latin America. Chagas disease infects approximately 8 million people and is the leading parasitic killer in the Americas, causing approximately 12,000 deaths each year. Sleeping sickness (human African trypanosomiasis) threatens millions in 36 countries in sub-Saharan Africa and, like the visceral form of leishmaniasis, is fatal if left untreated.
‘We welcome AstraZeneca as a new partner in our ongoing efforts to access the compounds necessary to boost the development of much-needed medicines for the world’s most neglected patients, including those afflicted with leishmaniasis, Chagas disease, and sleeping sickness’, says Dr Bernard Pécoul, Executive Director of DNDi. ‘This first agreement with AstraZeneca gives us a solid basis to build a fruitful collaboration and access promising new drug compounds for these and other neglected diseases.’
This agreement follows on the commitments announced at a landmark meeting in London on January 30, ‘Uniting to Combat NTDs’, where a range of public and private partners gathered in a coordinated push to support the WHO’s control and eliminations goals for 10 of the 17 neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) by 2020.
About Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs)
NTDs are a group of tropical infections that disproportionately affect the world’s poor and marginalized populations. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than a billion people, or one-sixth of the global population, suffer from one or more of 17 NTDs. The partnership between DNDi and AstraZeneca is focused on finding new treatments to address the following NTDs:
• Leishmaniasis occurs in 98 countries, placing 350 million people at risk worldwide. The parasite that leads to infection is called Leishmania and is transmitted by a sandfly. Leishmaniasis is a poverty-associated disease with several different forms. Visceral leismaniasis, which is fatal without treatment, and cutaneous leshmaniasis are the most common. Existing treatments are difficult to administer, toxic, and/or costly. Drug resistance also is an increasing problem.
• Chagas disease (American trypanosomiasis) is endemic in 21 countries across Latin America and kills more people in the region than any other parasite-borne disease, including malaria. In total, 100 million people are at risk worldwide and patient numbers are growing in non-endemic countries such as the United States and Australia, as well as some European countries. The disease is transmitted by an insect known as the ‘kissing bug’ and, without treatment, is potentially fatal. Existing treatments are known to have serious safety limitations and their efficacy diminishes the longer the patient has been infected.
• Sleeping sickness (human African trypanosomiasis, or HAT) is endemic in 36 sub-Saharan countries, threatening millions of people. The disease is transmitted by the bite of the tsetse fly. Without treatment in the initial phase, which causes general symptoms, the disease progresses to a second stage where mental debilitation and death frequently occur within six months to three years. Existing treatments are toxic, difficult to administer, and/or have severe side effects.
The Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi) is a not-for-profit research and development organization working to deliver new treatments for neglected diseases, in particular sleeping sickness (human African trypanosomiasis), Chagas disease, leishmaniasis, specific helminth infections, malaria, and paediatric HIV. DNDi was established in 2003 by Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF), the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (FIOCRUZ) of Brazil, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), the Ministry of Health of Malaysia, and the Pasteur Institute of France. The Special Programme for Tropical Disease Research (WHO/TDR) serves as permanent observer.
Since its inception in 2003, DNDi has delivered six new treatments for neglected patients: two fixed-dose antimalarials (ASAQ and ASMQ), nifurtimox-eflornithine combination therapy (NECT) for late-stage sleeping sickness, sodium stibogluconate and paromomycin (SSG&PM) combination therapy for visceral leishmaniasis in Africa, a set of combination therapies for visceral leishmaniasis in Asia, and a paediatric dosage form of benznidazole for Chagas disease.
DNDi has helped establish three clinical research platforms: Leishmaniasis East Africa Platform (LEAP) in Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan, and Uganda; the HAT Platform based in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for sleeping sickness; and the Chagas Clinical Research Platform in Latin America. Strong regional networks such as these help strengthen research and treatment-implementation capacity in neglected disease-endemic countries.
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Media Lead, AstraZeneca R&D
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