Eleven investments totaling $23 million were granted by the Global Health Innovative Technology Fund, a Japanese public-private partnership, to fuel research into vaccines and treatments for neglected tropical diseases, including schistosomiasis, or “snail fever”; dengue; malaria; Chagas disease; cryptosporidiosis; and leishmaniasis.
“For many NTDs, no effective drugs or vaccines exist. In the cases where they do exist, many of them are old, carry safety and administration concerns, and/or are experiencing resistance,” BT Slingsby, MD, PhD, MPH, CEO of the GHIT Fund, told Infectious Diseases in Children. “GHIT partners with entities across the globe to accelerate the pace of global health R&D so that needed products can be developed better and faster, and be rapidly accessed by and delivered to the patients who most need them.”
A large part of the funding, totaling $4.7 million, will be dedicated to a phase 3 study which that would test the efficacy of an easy-to-swallow praziquantel pill created by the Pediatric Praziquantel Consortium. The standard pill, intended to treat schistosomiasis in one dose, has been noted for its large size and extremely bitter taste, which causes many — including the 100 million children who are infected — to decline treatment. The phase 3 trial would focus on a smaller, more palatable pill targeted at children as young as 3 months.
Malaria research conducted by the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative and Ehime University has also been funded by the GHIT Fund, which includes the development of a transmission-blocking vaccine. The $600,000 investment would support the creation of a “human shield” to prevent the spread of malaria from infected humans to mosquitos.
An investment of $2.8 million was also awarded to Japan’s Research Institute for Microbial Diseases, the Medical Center for Translational and Clinical Research at Osaka University, the German-based European Vaccine Initiative, the Centre National de Recherche et de Formation sur le Paludisme and Nobelpharma Co., Ltd., to support continued work on a malaria vaccine candidate that is currently being tested in a phase 1b clinical trial in children aged 1 to 5 years in Burkina Faso.
Other contributions given to support the fight against malaria include:
- $750,000 to a partnership between Eisai Co. Ltd. and Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV) for identifying compounds that are potential antimalarial treatments;
- $483,000 to another partnership between Takeda Pharmaceutical Company Limited and MMV for the team to analyze compounds in the Takeda library that might fight malaria;
- $2 million to the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Eisai and MMV to identify drug-resistant strains and the compounds that would defeat them and prevent the transmission of the strains;
- $4.5 million to the University of Kentucky, Eisai and MMV for the study of SJ733, an antimalarial to be used with other malaria medications that speeds the process of healing and prevents relapse. The funding would support their phase 2a study in adults and challenge trials.
“WHO recognized that new medicines, diagnostics and innovative technologies are needed to reach the Roadmap’s 2020 targets,” Slingsby said in an interview. “GHIT aligns with the WHO strategy and roadmap to combat NTDs and create its RFP based on the unmet medical needs on the ground.”
In addition to supporting schistosomiasis research, the GHIT Fund has also supported the effort to eliminate neglected tropical diseases, including:
- $5.3 million to Chugai Pharmaceutical Co. and A*STAR’s Singapore Immunology Network to prevent the spread of the four types of dengue virus and create a therapy to treat the symptoms associated with them;
- $780,000 to the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi) and Daiichi Sankyo for the progress of “hit” series, which would provide possible treatment for leishmaniasis and Chagas disease;
- An additional $550,000 to DNDi, Eisai, Shionogi & Co. Ltd. and Takeda to continue previously funded work toward the Neglected Tropical Diseases Drug Booster Program, which was formed to be a catalyst for early-stage drug discovery targeting leishmaniasis and Chagas disease;
- $980,000 to promote the identification of novel drug targets for malaria, leishmaniasis and Chagas disease, which would be led by the RIKEN Center for Sustainable Resource Science, the Structural Genomics Consortium at University of Toronto, the University of Melbourne, McGill University, MMV and DNDi.
“We are reaching an exciting phase where GHIT’s approach to partnerships and drug and vaccine development is starting to produce tangible progress toward product deployment that could eventually lead to revolutionary breakthroughs,” Slingsby said in a press release. “We knew that combining Japan’s wealth of biomedical research talent and pharmaceutical capabilities with leading infectious diseases experts near and far was likely to be a winning combination, and that’s been validated by the progress we are seeing across a rich diversity of products.” — by Katherine Bortz