In the search for new drugs to treat neglected diseases and malaria, researchers at the University of Campinas (UNICAMP) and University of Sao Paulo (USP) will assemble a team of scientists in a global collaboration network co-funded by the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP), the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi) and the Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV).
The international consortium, supported by São Paulo Research Foundation - FAPESP under the auspices of its Research Partnership for Technological Innovation (PITE) program, will receive investments amounting to BRL 43.5 million over a five-year period. FAPESP will invest BRL 7.8 million, while DNDi and MMV together will invest BRL 12.8 million. UNICAMP and the USP will jointly contribute BRL 22.9 million in research infrastructure and personnel costs.
The agreement will be signed on November 28 in a ceremony held at FAPESP in São Paulo.
Established in collaboration with UNICAMP and USP, the consortium aims to identify pre-clinical candidate compounds targeting the treatment of visceral leishmaniasis, Chagas disease and malaria.
The goal of the project with MMV is to identify a new anti-malarial molecule which can rapidly kill the parasite without rendering it susceptible to the development of drug resistance. Ideally, the discovery should be a compound that can be administered in directly observed therapy to give patients a curative dose of treatment, helping to eliminate malaria in countries like Brazil, and eventually worldwide.
With DNDi, the goal is to deliver a high-quality compound, optimized and ready for clinical development, for the treatment of Chagas disease and leishmaniasis, in line with the target product profiles developed by DNDi and its partners to guarantee the delivery of a compound that meets patients' needs.
Collaboration by UNICAMP and USP with MMV and DNDi presents São Paulo with the challenge of discovering molecules that are good clinical candidates to combat neglected diseases and malaria, while at the same time providing access to the pipelines of the partner organizations and their experience in analyzing such molecules. The consortium will thereby combine research at the knowledge frontier that's connected to applications of enormous social relevance, with the training of researchers. These are important objectives for São Paulo State."
Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, Scientific Director of FAPESP
Neglected diseases and malaria affect billions of people around the world, especially in areas of extreme vulnerability. For some neglected diseases in particular, the few drugs available to treat them are expensive, ineffective or have unwanted side effects. The project aims to stimulate the development of capabilities to research new drugs in Brazil by means of an exchange of best knowledge practices.
"MMV is committed to discovering the medicines that will enable malaria-endemic countries, like Brazil, to eliminate the disease from within their borders as well as support global eradication," said Dr Timothy Wells, MMV's Chief Scientific Officer. "We are delighted to be drawing on the expertise of Brazilian scientists at UNICAMP and USP and combining that with MMV's malaria experience to find antimalarial medicines for the people of Brazil and beyond."
"The consortium's key differentiator is the creation of an international network that's multidisciplinary, self-sustaining, and designed to meet the needs of the inhabitants of endemic countries. It's a joint effort with the same purpose: obtaining safe and effective treatments for Chagas disease, leishmaniasis and malaria," said Jadel Müller Kratz, R&D Manager, DNDi.
The partnership will also support the training of future generations of experts in neglected disease treatment at UNICAMP and USP, while at the same time creating new opportunities for employment and investment in infrastructure at these universities.
Professor Luiz Carlos Dias of UNICAMP's Chemistry Institute is responsible for the overall coordination of the project.
"The consortium will span international boundaries and lead to the consolidation of a global partnership model that contributes to innovation, the advancement of knowledge for the discovery of novel drug candidates to treat parasitic tropical diseases, the acceleration of research timetables, and the sharing of data", Dias said.
Malaria, one of the diseases targeted by the consortium, is caused by parasites of the Plasmodium family and transmitted to humans by mosquito bite. In 2018, some 200,000 cases of malaria were notified in Brazil according to the Health Ministry's epidemiological bulletin. In 2017 the number of people affected rose by 53% compared with the previous year.
Chagas disease, which is endemic in 21 Latin American countries, is the region's most lethal parasitic disease, according to data from DNDi. Seventy million people are at risk from the disease worldwide, and the number of patients is steadily rising in non-endemic countries such as the United States and Australia.
Visceral leishmaniasis, caused by protozoan parasites of the genus Leishmania and spread by sandfly bite, is a chronic systemic disease that can be lethal if not properly treated. About 90% of cases reported in Latin America occur in Brazil.