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New consortium targets deadly tropical diseases

European companies and institutions join forces to develop drugs for African sleeping sickness and Leishmanisis

European companies and institutions join forces to develop drugs for African sleeping sickness and Leishmanisis.

A European consortium, comprising IOTA Pharmaceuticals, Mercachem, Nycomed, the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative, the Royal Tropical Institute, the University of Bern, the VU University Amsterdam and TI Pharma, has formed to boost drug development for the treatment of two diseases affecting millions of people worldwide - African sleeping sickness and Leishmaniasis.

Close on €3.6m has been allocated to develop effective drugs for these diseases over the next four years.

The consortium aims to target parasite-specific phosphodiesterase to develop and screen drug candidates for clinical evaluation and the treatment of both diseases. Rob Leurs from VU University Amsterdam, the project's principal investigator, explains: "African sleeping sickness and Leishmaniasis are diseases caused by parasites. Both diseases are prominent on the World Health Organisation's (WHO) list of neglected tropical diseases for which no effective medication is available. 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."

According to recent WHO estimates, approximately 60 million people are at risk of contracting the African sleeping sickness, with an estimated 50,000 to 70,000 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 annually.

Leishmaniasis is found in many tropical and sub-tropical countries and 350 million people are at risk of developing the disease, with as many as 12 million people worldwide being infected. Some 1.5 million to 2 million new cases occur 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 causing 60,000 deaths. 

18th August 2009

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