Health News

Single drug called ‘new hope’ for three parasitic infections

After an exhaustive review of thousands of chemical compounds, researchers found a single drug that may effectively treat three deadly infections caused by three different pathogens.

Chagas disease, leishmaniasis and sleeping sickness kill tens of thousands of people per year in developing nations, but researchers in England found a compound that targets an enzyme common to the parasites causing all three infections, according to a new study published in the journal Nature.

Sleeping sickness, caused by the parasite Trypanosoma brucei, is spread by the tsetse fly and causes coma and death after infecting the brain; Chagas is caused by the Trypansosoma cruzi parasite, infecting the heart and digestive system; and Leishmaniasis is caused by Leishmania parasites spread by sandflies, causing several symptoms depending on the location of the infection. All three parasites share biology and genetics.

“It’s a breakthrough in our understanding of the parasites that cause the three diseases, potentially allowing them to be cured,” Jeremy Mottram, chair of pathogen biology at the Center for Immunology and Infection at the University of York, said in a press release. “This early phase drug discovery project will now move towards toxicity testing prior to human trials.”

Researchers at that Wellcome Trust, University of York, University of Washington and University of Glasgow collaborated to find an enzyme common to all three of the parasites.

Having identified a target for treatment, the researchers then screened more than 3 million compounds in the Novartis chemical library, refining one found to be potent and effective in testing against all three of the infections.

The compound, GNF6702, worked in lab tests and was then used in mice with the three infections. While the researchers report the compound did not appear to have adverse effects in the rodents, and cleared the infections, it still must be tested for safety before planning clinical trials to test efficacy in humans.

“These three diseases lead to more than 50,000 deaths annually, yet they receive relatively little funding for research and drug development,” Dr. Stephen Caddick, director of innovation at the Wellcome Trust, said in a press release. “We hope that our early stage support for this research will provide a basis for the development of new treatments that could reduce suffering for millions of people in the poorest regions of the world.”