DNDi, GlaxoSmithKline, and University of Dundee to identify drug candidates to treat leishmaniasis and Chagas disease

2 April 2018


The Drug Discovery Unit (DDU) will collaborate with the not-for-profit research and development organisation Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DND) and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in a bid to discover new pre-clinical drug candidates targeting two parasitic neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), leishmaniasis and Chagas disease.

“This agreement will be a boost to our long-term strategy to develop entirely new chemical entities to treat neglected diseases and provide better treatment options for patients. Today, treatments for both leishmaniasis and Chagas disease come with significant drawbacks: treatment can be too long, too complex, come with significant side effects, be too expensive or be difficult to access. All of these factors limit uptake in endemic countries, and we need better options,” said Dr Charles Mowbray, Director of Drug Discovery, DNDi.

Over 1 billion around the world are at risk of leishmaniasis, which is transmitted by the bite of a sandfly. Visceral leishmaniasis, the deadly form, causes close to 30,000 deaths per year. Cutaneous leishmaniasis, with up to 1 million new cases every year, can lead to disfiguration and stigmatization for people affected. Chagas disease affects around 6-8 million people in 21 endemic countries across the Americas. The disease is one of the leading causes of heart failure in Latin America as it is responsible for life-threatening heart damage if not treated early.

“GSK has a strong history in discovery and development of medicines and vaccines for neglected diseases. This collaboration builds on our commitment to share our drug discovery expertise and resources to address the continuing burden of infectious diseases primarily affecting patients in the poorest parts of the world. We have already delivered exciting new candidate medicines in our partnership with the Wellcome Trust and the University of Dundee, and this new agreement allows us to extend this productive relationship to identify further promising approaches,” said Pauline Williams, SVP and Head, Global Health R&D at GSK.

The focus of the collaboration by the teams of scientists at GSK, DDU, and DNDi will be on designing, making, and testing new drug molecules, with a view to developing new pre-clinical candidates suitable for possible further development into safe, effective, and affordable treatments. As a part of the collaboration, the three organizations will pool their knowledge, chemical starting points, and resources to more quickly identify the most promising new drug candidates.

Wellcome was instrumental in co-funding the successful GSK-DDU collaboration that has delivered two novel pre-clinical candidates for visceral leishmaniasis and will continue to fund the GSK-DDU collaboration within the context of this work.

“The DDU and our Wellcome Centre for Anti-Infectives Research are delighted to continue to put our expertise and capacities, developed within the excellent collaboration with GSK that delivered two pre-clinical candidates for leishmaniasis, to the service of those suffering from these neglected diseases, and we look forward to building on the strengths of our previous collaborations with GSK and DNDi,” said Professor Paul Wyatt, Head of the DDU and Director of the Wellcome Centre for Anti-Infectives Research at the University of Dundee.

Both Chagas disease and leishmaniasis are targeted for elimination as public health problems according to the 2020 Roadmap targets for the control, prevention, elimination, and eradication of neglected tropical diseases established by the World Health Organization. New, patient-friendly, safe, and effective therapeutic breakthroughs would provide considerable support to achieving this target.