Anti-TB compounds could fight diseases

GENEVA - Compounds being developed against tuberculosis also show promise against deadly tropical diseases threatening millions of people, two not-for-profits groups said yesterday, announcing a deal to speed up drug development.

The Global Alliance for TB Drug Development has granted the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative rights to develop a class of potential anti-TB compounds offering hope of treating Chagas disease, African sleeping sickness and leishmaniasis.

It is the "first-ever royalty-free licence agreement between two not-for-profit drug developers," according to a statement from the New York-based TB Alliance and the Geneva-based DNDi about the deal backed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

"There are innovative ways to share knowledge, to avoid duplication in research, thereby saving costs and speeding up the R and D process for the benefit of the patients," Bernard Pecoul, DNDi's executive director, said.

One of the furthest advanced and most promising TB drug candidates covered by the agreement, PA-824, is in Phase II testing, the drug developers said.

The compound is from the nitroimidazole drug class.

Chagas, a disease caused by a parasite found mainly in rural areas of Latin America, kills about 14000 people a year and an estimated 8million are infected. Infection is lifelong and can lead to heart disease and heart failure. About 100million people are deemed at risk of the disease.

Leishmaniasis and sleeping sickness, formally known as human African trypanosomiasis, each kill about 50000 people a year and pose a threat to a combined total of 400million people.

The Gates Foundation is providing a $1,5million (about R11,5million) grant to DNDi for preclinical assessments of compounds specifically for use against visceral leishmaniasis, a deadly parasitic infection spread by the bite of a sandfly.

Though found in Europe, Asia and Africa, leishmaniasis is most concentrated in India. An estimated 350million people worldwide are deemed at risk from infection. - Reuters