£10 million boost for neglected tropical disease research at Dundee

The University of Dundee has received over £10 million from the Wellcome Trust in the fight against some of the world’s most neglected parasitic diseases, including support for a multi-million pound partnership with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) to discover new drug treatments.

The Drug Discovery Unit at Dundee will work with GSK’s Kinetoplastids Discovery Performance Unit (DPU) at the company’s Tres Cantos Medicines Development Campus in Spain.

The goal of the collaboration is to develop safe and affordable treatments for Chagas disease, leishmaniasis and African sleeping sickness. These are neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) which kill tens of thousands of people across the developing world every year and are caused, in some cases, by parasites called kinetoplastids.

The partnership’s aim is to deliver at least one treatment against one of the diseases in the next 5 years. It is being supported by a grant of £8.6million from the Wellcome Trust:

“These parasitic diseases, which afflict millions of people worldwide, are collectively responsible for about 150,000 deaths every year in Asia, Africa and Latin America.  The drugs currently used to treat patients are often difficult to administer, have toxic side effects and are not always effective due to drug resistance” said Professor Alan Fairlamb, an international expert on parasite biochemistry, based in the Drug Discovery Unit at Dundee.

“Better, safer drugs are needed that are cheap and easy to administer, because most of these patients are living in poverty without access to hospitals or clinics.”

Significant progress has been made in Dundee towards the development of a new treatment for African sleeping sickness in particular over the past 5 years, and there have been promising results in identifying potential treatments for leishmaniasis.

“Currently we have a portfolio of discovery projects in various stages of development in African sleeping sickness and visceral leishmaniasis“, said Professor Mike Ferguson. “We have several types of compounds with promising activity in animal models. The next step is to chemically modify these molecules to find the optimal balance of drug-like properties for clinical trials”.

Now the expert teams at Dundee and GSK will work together to expand their activities in an integrated, multidisciplinary effort to find effective treatments for the three diseases.

“Having an industry-experienced, multidisciplinary drug discovery team housed alongside world leaders in the biology of these parasites is a major strength of the Drug Discovery Unit and is rare in a UK university,” explained Professor Paul Wyatt, Head of the DDU.

“We are very pleased to have GSK as a valued partner in the project. The support from the Wellcome Trust has enabled us to create a powerful team by combining DDU’s and GSK’s considerable expertise and infrastructure, to accelerate progress towards discovering new drugs for these terrible diseases. We have already forged a very productive partnership and look forward to an exciting and successful future.”

The funding comes in addition to a recent award of £1.5million by the Wellcome Trust to Professor Fairlamb to investigate Chagas disease.

Dr Ted Bianco, Director of Technology Transfer at the Wellcome Trust, said, “This significant award from the Wellcome Trust recognises the University’s distinguished track record in the area of neglected tropical diseases and its strategic approach to translational research. The partnership with GSK is an exciting and timely development that brings together complementary skills from academia and industry.  I applaud both parties for their commitment to global health.”

GSK has a long-standing commitment to developing new and better treatments for NTDs through collaborative partnerships and global information sharing programmes.

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