Tackling three neglected diseases at once

Partnership objectives

The partnership aims to tackle the parasites responsible for three neglected diseases, African Sleeping sickness, leishmaniasis and Chagas disease. 

One compound cripples three different deadly parasites in disease models. One compound cripples three different deadly parasites in disease models. Copyright Novartis

What are the health needs and challenges?

For millions of people in low and middle-income countries parasites and the deadly infections they cause pose a constant threat to health and survival. However, many of the infectious diseases caused by parasites are neglected and few treatments are available. 

Description of partnership activities and how they address needs and challenges

A team led by researchers at the Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation (GNF) has identified a potential way to tackle three neglected diseases at once. The scientists are able to show that a single compound can cripple the parasites responsible for African sleeping sickness, leishmaniasis and Chagas disease, which cause symptoms in close to 1 million people per year. 

The three diseases, responsible for 50,000 deaths annually, seem quite distinct. African sleeping sickness is found in Africa and affects the central nervous system. Leishmaniasis is a skin infection that leads to skin and mouth sores and is prevalent across Asia, Africa and Latin America.  Chagas disease occurs mostly in Latin America, but can also be found in the U.S. and Europe. These infections, which often go unnoticed at first, can eventually cause intestinal complications and heart failure.

However, these three infections have one thing in common. They are all caused by parasites that belong to the same class of single-celled organisms—the kinetoplastids. This common feature led the team at GNF to search for a shared weakness.

In search of a shared weakness, more than three million compounds were tested until scientists at GNF found one, GNF5343, which stood out as a promising lead. Following this discovery, a chemistry team took this compund and made it more potent and more like a drug candidate. When the team tested the optimized version of GNF5343 in mice with the three kinetoplastid diseases, the animals were cured of their infection.

Partnership information

Company(ies) Novartis

Partner(s) National Institute of Health, Wellcome Trust

Type of Partner(s) Academia / Hospitals, NGOs

Therapeutic Focus Neglected Tropical Diseases

Disease(s) Chagas Disease, Human African Trypanosomiasis (Sleeping Sickness), Leishmaniasis

Program Type(s) Research & Development - Development of Treatments

Region(s) World

Number of Countries 1

Country(ies) Worldwide

Start Date 2016

Anticipated completion date Ongoing