Wellcome has committed over £10 million to the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi), a not-for-profit research and development (R&D) organization, to develop new treatments for leishmaniasis, one of the world’s most devastating parasitic diseases. The three-year partnership will enable DNDi and Wellcome to develop new combinations of entirely new, all-orally acting chemical entities, through a joint strategy that also harnesses the strengths of the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries, academia, and product development partnerships.
“Current treatments for leishmaniasis require patients to take toxic and poorly tolerated drugs, often over a long period of time and through painful injections,” said Dr Bernard Pécoul, Executive Director DNDi. “Our R&D efforts have up until now mostly focused on bringing improvements to these existing treatments, but we are hopeful this new collaboration with Wellcome will enable us to radically overhaul the treatment landscape, by developing entirely innovative oral drugs that are safe, effective, affordable, and easy to administer.”
Over one billion people worldwide are at risk of leishmaniasis, which is transmitted by the bite of a sandfly. Visceral leishmaniasis is the most serious form of the disease, causing fever, weight loss, spleen and liver enlargement, and if left untreated, death; 50,000 to 90,000 new cases and close to 30,000 deaths are reported a year. Another form of the disease, cutaneous leishmaniasis, with 600,000 to 1 million new cases every year, can lead to disfiguration and stigmatisation for people affected. Currently, patients must undergo treatments that have serious drawbacks in terms of safety, duration, resistance, stability, and cost.
“Wellcome has a long-standing commitment to support innovative new treatments for Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs). This strategic investment to support DNDi’s comprehensive programme for leishmaniasis is a great opportunity to build on Wellcome’s work with a number of academic and industry partnerships in drug discovery in NTDs. As part of our Flagships initiative, we are committed to working with partners to try and drive improvements in the development process by harnessing new technologies to drive further innovation, at speed and scale. Working with DNDi on this programme, is central to achieving these goals and we’re hopeful that this will transform the lives of people suffering from this devastating disease,” said Steve Caddick, Director of Innovation at Wellcome.
The programme brings together a strong consortium of R&D partners, including the University of Dundee, Celgene, GSK, Pfizer, TB Alliance, and Takeda Pharmaceutical Company Limited. These partners have built a portfolio of lead series, pre-clinical and clinical drug candidates, originating from different chemical classes with different mechanisms of action against leishmania parasites. The three-year programme will evaluate 10 drug candidates, with the aim of selecting two all-oral new chemical entities (NCEs) for testing as a combination in Phase II studies in patients.
The commitment will focus on delivering the most promising and effective NCEs and support the World Health Organization’s strategy to control and eliminate the disease.
“We are delighted to have the support of WelIcome, building on many years of fruitful collaboration between our organizations. This new partnership will help increase synergies among the leishmaniasis drug development community and potentially encourage new partners to join us. Together, we can bring the best science to deliver new oral, high efficacy and affordable drug combinations for patients,” said Dr Pécoul.
Among the donors currently supporting this programme, the Global Health Innovative Technology Fund (GHIT) is the only donor providing support fully dedicated to the development of a compound developed in partnership with Takeda.
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A not-for-profit research and development organization, DNDi works to deliver new treatments for neglected diseases, in particular human African trypanosomiasis, leishmaniasis, Chagas disease, filarial infections, mycetoma, paediatric HIV, and hepatitis C. DNDi has delivered eight new treatments since its inception in 2003.
DNDi’s programme on the development of new chemical entities for leishmaniasis is supported by grants from Wellcome, UK; Global Health Innovative Technology Fund (GHIT), Japan; Médecins sans Frontières/Doctors without Borders, International; UK Aid; Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs (DGIS), The Netherlands; Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) through KfW, German; Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), Switzerland.
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Photo credit: Anita Khemka/DNDi