Consortium receives EU grant to develop new treatment for leishmaniasis

Professor Sanjeev Krishna and colleagues at St George's, University of London are heading a consortium that has been awarded EUR3.75 million to develop a treatment for one of the world's most neglected tropical diseases, leishmaniasis.

The funding is for full development of an exciting treatment prospect that has already shown promise in laboratory studies.

Leishmaniasis is a disease caused by Leishmania parasites, and is spread by the bite of certain types of sandflies. The skin form, cutaneous leishmaniasis, causes tropical ulcers which last for months or even years and cause severe scarring, stigma and disability. The many forms of the disease affect millions of people, mostly the world's most vulnerable populations.

Initial studies on the new drug, which is an alkylphosphocholine, have indicated that it is more potent than existing treatments. Since the lesions in cutaneous leishmaniasis can be widespread across the body of those with the infection, there is a need to develop an oral drug. Dr Henry Staines, a team member based at St George's, said "Early indications are this new drug could have a huge impact on cutaneous leishmaniasis, a truly neglected tropical disease, but further essential studies are required before it can reach those most in need."

The money has been awarded by Horizon 2020, the EU's research and innovation programme, to TT4CL ['Targeted Treatment for Leishmaniasis'). This is a consortium which comprises: St George's; the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM); a clinical trials unit at the University of Tuebingen, Germany; a partner laboratory in Iran; and Oblita and Avivia, two companies from Belgium and the Netherlands that will develop and deliver the drug product for the planned studies.

EU funding is provided via a new pilot scheme which involves up-front payments when deliverables are met, rather than the usual auditing process keeping pace with the trial work.

Professor Krishna said:

In times of fears about Brexit and its impact on research, this is really good news, and the new financing structure frees up us scientists to do the work as it is far more flexible."

The initial scientific studies will be carried out on samples collected from humans' cutaneous leishmaniasis lesions in Iran, and in animal models at the LSHTM. Following development and manufacturing, the final phase will be to verify the pharmacokinetics and safety of the drug product on healthy volunteers. If the project successfully passes each of these stages of its development, the end result would be that the drug product is ready for testing its efficacy in patients.

Professor Krishna added:

The European Union's commitment to improve the health of the most needy is exemplified by their support for our consortium, which also shows how important it is to continue to work collaboratively within the EU."

This project received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No815622.

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