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AstraZeneca, NGO to Partner on Neglected Tropical Diseases

Tsetse fly (Agricultural Research Service, USDA)

Tsetse fly (Agricultural Research Service, USDA)

The group Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi), a non-government organization in Geneva, and the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca have agreed to collaborate on drug-compound screening for three neglected tropical diseases. The three diseases — leishmaniasis, Chagas disease, and sleeping sickness — together affect nearly 10 million people worldwide.

Under the agreement, AstraZeneca will provide to DNDi 15,000 compounds with the potential to treat leishmaniasis, Chagas disease, and sleeping sickness. DNDi will coordinate the screening, which will be conducted at Institut Pasteur Korea. AstraZeneca and DNDi will then assess further development of compounds that score highest on the screenings.

World Health Organization identifies 17 neglected tropical diseases that affect some 1 billion people, or one-sixth of the world’s population. DNDi says the visceral form of leishmaniasis has one of the highest death rates of all neglected tropical diseases, killing up to 60,000 people each year mainly in Africa and South Asia. The cutaneous form of the disease disables and deforms 1.5 million people throughout the Middle East and Latin America. Existing treatments for the disease are difficult to administer, toxic, and costly. Drug resistance also is an increasing problem.

Chagas disease infects approximately 8 million people and is the leading parasitic killer in the Americas, says DNDi, causing approximately 12,000 deaths each year. 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 threatens millions of people in 36 countries in sub-Saharan Africa and, like the visceral form of leishmaniasis, is fatal if left untreated. The disease is transmitted by the bite of the tsetse fly. Existing treatments are toxic, difficult to administer, or have severe side effects.

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