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17 August 2009, New consortium to develop drugs for neglected tropical diseases

A new consortium has been formed to boost drug development for the treatment of African sleeping sickness and Leishmaniasis, diseases that affect millions of people worldwide. A total budget of nearly 3.6 million euros has been allocated over the next 4 years to develop effective drugs for these diseases. The consortium is formed by IOTA Pharmaceuticals, Mercachem, Nycomed, the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative, the Dutch Royal Tropical Institute, the University of Bern, the VU University of Amsterdam and TI Pharma.

Rob Leurs, the project’s principal investigator, comments: “African sleeping sickness and Leishmaniasis are diseases caused by parasites. Both diseases are prominent on the World Health Organization’s list of neglected tropical diseases for which no effective medication is available.” The new consortium will target parasite-specific Phosphodiesterases to develop and screen drug candidates for clinical evaluation and the treatment of both diseases. Leurs continues: “This new project combines the knowledge and experience of leading European laboratories and promises to make a major contribution to the treatment of neglected tropical diseases.”

African sleeping sickness

Recent estimates indicate that over 60 million people are at risk of contracting the African sleeping sickness (also called African Trypanosomiasis), with 300,000 new cases occurring each year. The disease appears in 36 countries in sub-Saharan Africa and is endemic in south-east Uganda and western Kenya, killing more than 40,000 Africans each year. The African sleeping sickness parasite, most commonly Trypanosoma brucei, is transmitted to humans by tsetse fly bites.
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Leishmaniasis is found in many tropical and sub-tropical countries, in settings as diverse as the rainforests of Central and South America to the deserts of West Asia and the Middle East. 350 million people are at risk of developing the disease, with as many as 12 million people worldwide being infected and 1.5–2 million new cases occurring each year. Leishmaniasis presents in cutaneous, visceral and mucosal forms, with the visceral form of the disease alone having an estimated incidence of 500,000 new cases each year, and and causing 60,000 deaths. Many different Leishmania species are implicated in the disease, which is transmitted by sand flies.

Neglected diseases framework

Neglected diseases such as African Sleeping Sickness, Leishmaniasis and Malaria, represent a major economic burden on developing countries. Within its project portfolio, TI Pharma is seeking to develop solutions to these diseases, mobilizing public and private partners in multilateral consortia – bringing together a wide range of competences and resources. This new project is TI Pharma’s fourth initiative in neglected diseases. Other projects focus on the development of a protective malaria vaccine, a ‘proof of concept’ vaccine for Chikungunya, an effective HIV therapy, and formulations that can resist tropical conditions without refrigeration for both oxytocin and insulin as well as vaccines for hepatitis B and influenza. These projects illustrate TI Pharma's commitment to neglected diseases research.

For more information, please contact Ingeborg van der Heijden: + 31 71 3322036.

The Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi) is a not-for-profit product development partnership founded in 2003 by five publicly-funded research organizations –  Brazil’s Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, the Indian Council of Medical Research, Kenya Medical Research Institute, the Malaysian Ministry of Health, and Institut Pasteur, an international research organization as well as WHO’s Tropical Diseases Research program and an international humanitarian organization called Médecins Sans Frontières. DNDi has developed the largest R&D portfolio for kinetoplastid diseases ever and, with its partners, has already made three new treatments for neglected diseases available. For further information, please visit www.dndi.org.

IOTA Pharmaceuticals is a privately-owned drug discovery company, providing structure-based molecular design, compound screening and lead development services to its partners in the pharmaceutical industry. IOTA specialises in fragment-based drug discovery (FBDD), applying its proprietary FBDD technology to produce selective drugs from commercially relevant gene families, which include the phosphodiesterases. We work with clients on a target-exclusive basis, providing access to our proprietary technology and considerable pharmaceutical discovery experience within the framework of dedicated Drug Discovery Partnerships (DDPs). For more information about IOTA, please visit www.iotapharma.com.

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Mercachem is a privately owned, independent contract research organization offering state-of-the-art organic chemistry, medical chemistry and process R&D services to accelerate the drug discovery and development process in a flexible and cost-effective way. Mercachem was founded in 1997 and employs 105 people. The company is located in Nijmegen, the Netherlands. It moved to a brand-new laboratory facility covering an area of 3000 m² in 2006. Working for major pharmaceutical and biotech companies throughout the world, Mercachem is recognized for its high-quality products and services and its fast problem-solving capabilities. More information on Mercachem can be found on the company website (www.mercachem.com).

Nycomed is a privately owned global pharmaceutical company with a differentiated portfolio focused on branded medicines in gastroenterology, respiratory and inflammatory diseases, pain, osteoporosis and tissue management. An extensive range of OTC products completes the portfolio. Its R&D is built to be open for partnerships as in-licensing is a cornerstone of the company’s growth strategy. Nycomed products are available in more than 100 countries. It has strong platforms in Europe and in fast-growing markets such as Russia/CIS, and Latin America. While the US and Japan are commercialised through best-in-class partners, Nycomed will further strengthen its position in key Asian markets. Headquartered in Zurich, Switzerland, in 2008 the company generated total sales of c 3,4 billion and an adjusted EBITDA of c 1,2 billion. For more information visit www.nycomed.com. Nycomed in the Netherlands is located in Hoofddorp where it employs approximately 105 people. (website)

The Royal Tropical Institute (KIT) is an independent center for knowledge and expertise for international cooperation. The institute works on sustainable development, poverty reduction, improvement of health and cultural preservation. KIT has been working in developing countries for almost 100 years and is one of the oldest public-private partnerships in the Netherlands. KIT is increasingly active in the private sector. (website for KIT Biomedical Research)

University of Bern

VU University Amsterdam, with its excellent educational and research programs brings together talents from a wide range of disciplines and from many different countries. For VU University Amsterdam academic endeavor is more valuable when it makes a contribution to our world. For further information, visit www.vuamsterdam.com/home/index.cfm.

Within TI Pharma, consortia of industrial and academic research teams conduct groundbreaking, cross-disciplinary research projects that fit into the Priority Medicines program of the WHO. Each year, the Dutch government funds the top institute to the tune of 30 million euros. The pharmaceutical industry and academia each contribute an additional 15 million euros per year. TI Pharma is becoming an international leader in (bio)pharmaceutical research, training and education. TI Pharma’s fellows are trained in understanding the intricacies of the entire drug R&D process. For further information, visit www.tipharma.com.

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