New Drug Compounds Against Wolbachia Bacteria

Partnership objective

Discover novel anti-Wolbachia targeted anti-filarial drugs to eliminate adult worms.

Anti-Wolbachia therapy is a new method of treatment that eradicates the adult worms that can cause filariasis. Anti-Wolbachia therapy is a new method of treatment that eradicates the adult worms that can cause filariasis. Copyright IFPMA

What are the health needs and challenges?

Wolbachia live inside the parasitic worms, known as filariae, that cause lymphatic filariasis and onchocerciasis, two infectious diseases that together affect more than 150 million people worldwide.

While current anti-filarial treatments are effective against larvae and microfilariae, they require many years of consistent, annual mass drug administration in a given endemic community in order to also successfully eliminate the adult worms. 

Description of partnership activities and how they address needs and challenges

Anti-Wolbachia therapy is a new method of treatment that eradicates the adult worms that can cause filariasis by eliminating bacteria known as Wolbachia that live in the cells of their bodies. As filariae are dependent on these Wolbachia for growth, development, reproduction and survival, these worms can be effectively eradicated by first eliminating the Wolbachia inside them.

Anti-Wolbachia therapy is expected to lead to worm sterility and effective worm eradication, thereby reducing treatment timeframes and providing superior therapeutic outcomes compared to existing anti-filarial drugs. Further, as anti-Wolbachia programs are still in their infancy, this collaboration is expected to potentially provide a unique opportunity to make a significant contribution to communities affected by filariasis.

Eisai has entered into a collaboration with the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM) and the University of Liverpool to jointly identify new drugs effective against lymphatic filariasis and onchocerciasis (river blindness), both major types of filariasis. Under the collaboration, Eisai works with LSTM and the University of Liverpool to identify and develop novel drug candidates that efficiently eliminate the bacteria Wolbachia. 

This approach has the potential to significantly reduce the timescale of elimination programs, to provide alternatives to existing treatments, and to deliver tools that can be used in areas where current approaches are failing or cannot be deployed. Doxycycline, an antibiotic, is believed to work in this way and proof of concept has already been established in human field trials, which showed excellent results although requiring four to six weeks of daily treatment and being unsuitable for administration to children and pregnant women.

Summary of impact and forward looking information

On February 2017 a candidate compound has been identified for this project. This compound is effective in eliminating Wolbachia in in vitro assays, it eliminates macrofilaria in in vivo animal models and has a desirable pharmacokinetic profile. The compound is being profiled for safety currently.

Partnership information

Company(ies) Eisai

Partner(s) Global Health Innovative Technology (GHIT) Fund, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, University of Liverpool

Type of Partner(s) Academia / Hospitals, NGOs

Therapeutic Focus Neglected Tropical Diseases

Disease(s) Lymphatic Filariasis, Onchocerciasis (River Blindness)

Program Type(s) Research & Development - Development of Treatments, Research & Development - Innovative Funding Mechanisms

Targeted Population(s) Children, Marginalised / Indigenous People, Men, Patients in needs of treatment, People with low income, Women

Region(s) East Asia & Pacific, Europe & Central Asia, Latin America & Caribbean, Sub-Saharan Africa

Number of Countries 84

Country(ies) Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Benin, Bolivia, Botswana, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Chile, Colombia, Comoros, Congo, Costa Rica, Côte d'Ivoire, Cuba, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, French Guiana, Gabon, Ghana, Grenada, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mexico, Mozambique, Namibia, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Sudan, Suriname, Swaziland, Tanzania, The Gambia, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Venezuela, Zambia, Zimbabwe

Start Date 2014

More information Eisai Press Release

Anticipated completion date Ongoing