A new consortium of research institutes, universities, not-for-profit organizations, and pharmaceutical companies has teamed up to develop novel drugs for infections caused by parasitic worms (helminths), a debilitating group of diseases that includes river blindness, lymphatic filariasis, as well as infection with hookworm and whipworm, which together affect close to a billion people.
Called the Helminth Elimination Platform (HELP), this new multidisciplinary platform is funded through the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme and will run to September 2024. HELP is led by the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute (Swiss TPH), and comprises not-for-profit research and development (R&D) organization, Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi), and pharmaceutical companies, Bayer Animal Health and Bristol-Myers Squibb (formerly Celgene). Partnering European and African academic institutions are the University Hospital Bonn, Germany, and Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle Paris, France, as well as the Ifakara Health Institute, Tanzania, and the University of Buea, Cameroon.
‘These gastrointestinal or tissue helminth diseases affect millions of people, yet R&D lags behind that of other neglected tropical diseases,‘ said Professor Jennifer Keiser, Head of the Helminth Drug Development Unit at Swiss TPH, and Consortium Coordinator. ‘By bringing together experience in pharmaceutical development and translational medicine with disease specialists, we will bolster the empty anthelminthic drug pipeline, and put us on the path towards curative drugs that target one or more of these debilitating parasitic worm infections.’
The HELP consortium will work on ‘nematode’ worms, which include both the filarial worms that cause river blindness (onchocerciasis), loiasis, and lymphatic filariasis, and intestinal helminths like hookworm and whipworm, which are transmitted through contaminated soil. More efficacious, safe, and affordable treatments are needed for river blindness, which can cause blinding and debilitating itching of the skin, as well as for infections with soil-transmitted helminths, which can cause abdominal pain, diarrhoea, and considerable growth retardation.
‘We’re hoping to develop desperately needed new treatments for at least one – and because these parasites are related, possibly several – of these diseases, by bringing together this unprecedented combination of expertise in one group,’ said Sabine Specht, Head of Filarial Diseases, DNDi, and co-application of the HELP consortium.
The HELP consortium will undertake activities ranging from drug discovery to development. Compound classes with validated drug targets in parasitological and preclinical studies in veterinary medicine will be evaluated for application in humans. Moreover, oxfendazole and oxantel pamoate, two well characterized compounds, will be studied in early clinical testing. HELP will also contribute to capacity building of affected countries to conduct R&D for these diseases by translational medicine, and lead two clinical first-in-human phase I trials in Africa.
This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 815628.
About Swiss TPH
The Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute (Swiss TPH) is a world-leading institute in global health with a particular focus on low- and middle-income countries. Associated with the University of Basel, Swiss TPH combines research, services, and education and training at local, national, and international levels. About 850 people from 80 nations work at Swiss TPH focusing on infectious and non-communicable diseases, environment, society, and health as well as health systems and interventions. www.swisstph.ch
The Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi) is a not-for-profit research and development organization working to deliver new treatments for neglected diseases – notably leishmaniasis, sleeping sickness, Chagas disease, specific filarial infections, and mycetoma – as well as treatments for neglected patients, particularly those living with paediatric HIV and hepatitis C. Since its inception in 2003, DNDi and its partners have delivered eight innovative treatments to improve the quality of life and health of patients. www.dndi.org
About University of Buea
The University of Buea is a state University in Cameroon, created in 1993. Scientists at the University of Buea work on tropical diseases, notably filariasis. Their work combines experimental models of infection (preclinical research) to clinical trial, and epidemiology. They developed animal models for loaisis for both screening and counter screening of compounds against loaisis, lymphatic filariasis, and onchocerciasis. www.ubuea.cm
About University Hospital Bonn
The Institute for Medical Microbiology, Immunology and Parasitology at the Universitätsklinikum Bonn is internationally renowned for its work in tropical medicine, specifically for pioneering a new drug treatment for filariasis. The new treatment exploits the symbiosis between the filarial nematodes and bacterial endosymbionts called Wolbachia, which are susceptible to some classes of antibiotics. www.ukbonn.de
About Ifakara Health Institute (IHI)
Ifakara Health Institute (IHI) is a leading health research organization in Africa, with a strong track record of developing, testing, and validating innovations for health. We are driven by a core strategic mandate for research, training, and services. The institute’s work spans across the full research lifecycle from basic science to policy and translation. IHI’s work is organized in three research departments, six research units, and seven technical units. The research departments are: Environmental Health & Ecological Sciences, Interventions & Clinical Trials, and Health Systems, Impact Evaluation & Policy. The research units are: Grants and Contracts, Training & Capacity Building, Laboratories, Data Systems and Platforms, Vector Control Product Testing, and Chronic Diseases Clinics. The technical units, which are supporting research (our primary activity), are: Internal Audit, Knowledge Management and Communications, Finance Management, Human Resources, Procurement Management, Branch Management and Information & Communication Technology. We have three major offices in Tanzania (Ifakara, Bagamoyo, & Dar es Salaam). www.ihi.or.tz
About Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle
The Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle is a research establishment, educational institution and museum rolled into one, a crossroads of knowledge with collections, a variety of sites open to the public and laboratories. One of them is dedicated to parasitology and has a long history in the study of filariasis. www.mnhn.fr
About Bayer Animal Health
Based in Germany and a business unit of Bayer AG, Bayer Animal Health is the #5 animal health company globally with revenues of €1.5 billion in 2018. It offers a broad range of products, with a particularly strong position in the field of parasiticides for companion animals, as well as parasiticides and anti-infectives for the treatment of infectious diseases in livestock. Bayer Animal Health sells products in over 120 countries and has over 3,500 employees worldwide. www.animalhealth.bayer.com
Tel.: +1 646 266 5216
Bayer Animal Health
Tel.: +49 2173 38 5061
Photo credit: DNDi