The University of Dundee’s drug discovery unit has hooked up with the Geneva, Switzerland-based Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi) to discover and develop “affordable and effective” treatments for visceral leishmaniasis.

In a deal potentially worth up to £1.8 million over five years, researchers at Dundee University will work to identify molecules able to kill the Leishmania parasite, which could then be taken up for further development into marketed medicines by partners of the DNDi.

The money provided under the partnership will help to establish a dedicated leishmaniasis drug discovery group at the University, which plans to strengthen its research muscle by forming consortia with leading academic centres such as the Structural Genomics Consortium and London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, the group said.

The Leishmania parasite is transmitted by the sandfly and causes three different types of disease, of which VL is considered the most severe. Patients with VL risk losing their lives if left untreated, and around 500,000 new cases and 51,000 deaths are recorded each year, although real figures are thought to be much much higher as experts estimate only about 30% of cases are actually reported.

Unmet need
Despite growth in the number of treatments available to treat the disease, the groups claims there is still significant unmet patient need in the area as all of the current therapies have “significant drawbacks – in terms either of route of administration, length of treatment (21 to 28 days), toxicity or cost - which limit their utilisation in disease-endemic areas”, and so the collaboration aims to address these issues.

Commenting on the partnership, Shing Chang, Director of Research & Development at DNDi, said it is “an important step in DNDi’s efforts to fortify and to intensify drug research and development for neglected diseases as we work to provide better, low-cost treatments, and to rekindle the hopes of the many people who suffer from these diseases in the poorest regions of the world.”