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Gates Foundation Funds, Invests in Tropical Disease Research

River blindness (


Anacor Pharmaceuticals, a biopharmaceutical company in Palo Alto, California, will receive an award of nearly $18 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to discover drug candidates for tropical worm diseases and tuberculosis. Anacor says the Gates Foundation will also invest $5 million in the company’s common stock.

Anacor develops small molecule therapies using a technology based on boron — a naturally occurring element found in fruits, vegetables, milk, and coffee — rather than carbon. The company says boron-based compounds have a unique geometry that makes it possible for the compounds to interact with biological targets differently than carbon-based drugs. In addition, says Anacor, boron’s reactions to biological targets can be modulated to optimize the effectiveness of the drugs and minimize adverse effects.

In the agreement with Anacor, the Gates Foundation will pay Anacor $17.7 million to screen drug candidates to treat the filarial worm diseases onchocerciasis or river blindness, and lymphatic filariasis, also known as elephantiasis. Anacor will also screen drug candidates for tuberculosis. The company says it discovered new techniques for synthesizing boron compounds that make it possible to create new compound families.

In addition, Anacor will expand its library of boron-based compounds to screen for more drug candidates to treat neglected diseases. As part of the agreement, Anacor will provide access to this expanded library for researchers from the Gates Foundation, as well as academic, governmental and other not-for-profit organizations.

Onchocerciasis is an insect-borne disease caused by a parasite, and a major cause of blindness in many African countries, as well as Yemen, and parts of Latin America. Lymphatic filariasis occurs when filarial parasites are transmitted to humans through mosquitoes. The condition affects more than 120 million people worldwide, with about 40 million disfigured and incapacitated by the disease. Tuberculosis is an infectious bacterial disease, which in 2011 affected 8.7 million people, causing 1.4 million deaths.

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