Research and development (R&D) project, AfriCoLeish, is supported by the European Union Seventh Framework Programme (EU FP7) through a grant of -3 million. The project will run for three years and aims to test new treatments for kala-azar (visceral leishmaniasis, or VL) and co-infection of the disease with HIV in Ethiopia and Sudan.
The AfricoLeish project, 'Care Package for Treatment and Control of Visceral Leishmaniasis in East Africa', aims to develop and deliver a shorter combination treatment for kala-azar patients that is equally as safe and effective as the current WHO-recommended first-line treatment for the disease (SSG&PM, sodium stibogluconate and paromomycin) in East Africa. The project also aims to determine appropriate treatment strategies for kala-azar in patients that are also HIV positive, in order to treat and also prevent repetitive relapses that are common in co-infected patients.
Kala-azar (VL) is fatal if left untreated. An estimated 300,000 cases occur per year in 70 endemic countries. Estimates suggest 30,000 new cases per year in Africa, with numbers rising sharply during an epidemic. Existing monotherapies are toxic, costly, and difficult to administer, and the treatment duration is long, requiring extended hospital stays. Efficacious and cost-effective treatments as well as prevention of relapse play a critical role in the reduction of disease reservoir, forming a vital part of disease control. In addition, co-infection of kala-azar and HIV is a growing problem and renders treatment more difficult for both diseases.
'While we have managed to deliver a new first-line treatment for kala-azar in East Africa, sodium stibogluconate combined with paromomycin, SSG&PM, we need to continue searching for shorter, safer treatments', said Dr Monique Wasunna, Head of DNDi Africa and one of the four principal investigators of the AfriCoLeish project. 'Through a randomized clinical trial in Eastern Africa, the project will, for the first time, provide conclusive evidence-based data on the WHO recommendation to treat kala-azar/HIV co-infected patients using Ambisome 40 mg/kg total dose, and on the locally used regimen of AmBisome 30mg/kg in combination with miltefosine that is used by MSF in Ethiopia. To do this, AfriCoLeish has the right partners all focused on a clear goal: neglected patients' needs', she added.
AfriCoLeish brings together six well-respected organizations from Europe and East Africa with vast experience in R&D and treatment of HIV and kala-azar, namely the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi); the Institute of Tropical Medicine (ITM) in Antwerp; the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine; M-decins Sans Fronti-res (MSF, The Netherlands); the Institute of Endemic Diseases, University of Khartoum (IEND), Sudan; and the University of Gondar (UoG), Ethiopia.
'We are convinced that AfriCoLeish combines the experience and expertise required to deliver new treatment options that effectively address the dire needs of patients with kala-azar and those co-infected with kala-azar and HIV in our countries', said Dr Ermias Diro, Medical Coordinator, University of Gondar, Ethiopia. 'At the same time, the project will contribute to strengthening capacities in our treatment centres', he added.
The dissemination of AfriCoLeish project results will facilitate uptake of new treatments for kala-azar and for co-infection of kala-azar with HIV in East Africa, and will provide support to national programmes in the adoption of the new treatments. The improved treatment options will allow patients in East Africa to benefit from safe, cost-effective, and shorter treatments, while also reducing the treatment costs for health providers.
European Union Seventh Framework Programme