The Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine has received a $23 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help victims of human filariasis - a worm infection which causes some of the world’s most debilitating and distressing diseases.
The grant will support research at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine by a team of scientists, led by Dr Mark Taylor. They will work with an international consortium of six academic and industrial partners to develop and screen thousands of new combinations of potential filariasis drugs using state of the art drug development technologies. The programme will build upon the groundbreaking work already achieved by Dr Taylor and members of the consortium in targeting the bacteria inside the worms, without which they cannot survive.
If successful, this work has the potential to offer a new method to control and treat diseases which affect over 150 million of the world’s poorest people in the tropics. They include lymphatic filariasis or elephantiasis, which causes grossly enlarged legs and genitals, and onchocerciasis, better known as river blindness, a cause of skin disease and blindness.
Other partners in the consortium include the Institute for Medical Microbiology, Immunology and Parasitology, University Clinic Bonn, Germany and KCCR, Ghana (Hoerauf and Adjei labs); The Tropical Parasitic Diseases Unit, Northwick Park; Institute for Medical Research in Medecine, UK (Townson lab); TRS LABS (McCall lab), Paratek Pharmaceuticals, CombinatoRx and New England Biolabs (Slatko, Carlow and Kumar labs), USA.
Commenting on the grant, Dr Mark Taylor said: “The challenge is to kill the adult worms which cause these diseases. We can use current anti-worm drugs to reduce the number of juvenile worms, but they have to be taken for many years to cover the life span of the adult worms. This makes it difficult to sustain delivery of drugs in resource-poor countries, and we are already starting to see signs of emerging resistance to existing drugs.
“Instead of trying to kill the worms directly, we are targeting bacteria – called Wolbachia – which live inside the worm and are essential for the worm’s development, fertility and survival.
“Our aim is to obtain a safe and easily administered anti-symbiotic drug combination to kill the bacteria in a shorter period, reducing the time needed for programmes to eliminate adult worms from an endemic area. Importantly, it could add another weapon in the armoury against these diseases. It is also a good example of how basic biomedical research can deliver new treatments which are both effective and affordable – with this grant we can now address the challenge of translating them into tools for public health.”
“The fight against filariasis requires multiple approaches – we must expand the use of available drugs, and also accelerate research on new drugs,” said Dr Regina Rabinovich, director of infectious diseases for the Gates Foundation. “We are pleased to support this consortium, which builds on important efforts by The Wellcome Trust, The European Union and others to control neglected diseases in the poorest countries.”
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