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Japanese Fund Awards $12 Million to Develop Innovative Tools for Chagas Disease, Schistosomiasis, Parasitic Roundworms and Tuberculosis

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March 21, 2014

The Global Health Innovative Technology Fund (GHIT Fund), a new public health partnership that is bringing Japanese know-how and investment to the global fight against infectious diseases, today announced three grants worth a total of US$6.8 million to speed the development of innovative drugs for some of the world’s most neglected diseases—schistosomiasis, Chagas disease and parasitic roundworms. GHIT also announced a second round of funding of US$5.65 million for a novel vaccine candidate for tuberculosis and unveiled a new investment program that will help researchers find the most promising new drug candidates to battle these and other infectious diseases.

One billion of the world’s poorest people are afflicted with neglected diseases—also known as “the burden of the bottom billion”—and another three billion are at risk of being infected. Tropical disease infections, although not always fatal, can lead to delayed growth in children, impaired cognition and memory, malnutrition, organ damage, blindness, disfigurement and permanent disability.

“We’re proud to support and push forward the development of three new technologies that target diseases that afflict over a billion people in the world,” said Dr. BT Slingsby, the CEO and executive director of the GHIT Fund. “The physical damage from these diseases is enormous, but that’s just the beginning. Victims are stigmatized by their communities, and because of repeated bouts of serious illness, they can’t provide for their families. The result is a never ending cycle of poverty that can and must be stopped.”

Testing for a Safer, More Effective Combination Therapy for Chagas Disease

The first grant, for US$3.84 million, goes to Switzerland’s Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi) and Eisai of Japan for a new combination therapy for Chagas disease, a parasite-borne disease transmitted by insects known as “kissing bugs,” named for the insects’ penchant for biting faces. Chagas kills more people in Latin America than any other parasitic disease. An estimated eight million people are infected, many unknowingly, leading to lack of treatment and heart or intestinal damage that could lead to death.

The current drugs for Chagas (benznidazole and nifurtimox) are poorly tolerated in adults, hard to use and frequently fail to cure chronic infections, which can cause cardiovascular disorders—including enlarged heart, heart failure, severely altered heart rhythm, and heart attack—that often lead to severe disability and death. Experts have long believed a drug combination would work better, but the safety and efficacy of the combination have not yet been proven.

GHIT’s grant will enable DNDand Eisai to develop a combination therapy consisting of benznidazole and an experimental triazole compound known as E1224. Over the next two years, under the leadership of Dr. Isabela Ribeiro of DNDi, the collaborators will conduct a Phase II proof-of-concept study of the efficacy and safety of the combination. They will use data from this trial to help shape a Phase III multi-country study. The group will also work toward the registration of E1224, including several required chemistry, manufacturing and controls activities and nonclinical tests.

See the press release here.

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