One Compound to Treat Three Neglected Parasitic Diseases


Studies by the pharmaceutical company Novartis, show that one compound can be used to treat three deadly and neglected infections – Chagas disease, leishmaniasis and sleeping sickness.

Novartis pharma logoThese diseases have affected thousands of people in the poorest parts of the world as in Latin America, Asia and Africa, but there haven’t been many effective treatments available. This new compound has been described as a “new ray of hope” for tackling these infections caused by parasites.

As reported in the journal “Nature”, this discovery was finalized after testing about three million compounds. Wellcome-funded scientists and researchers have found the chemical compound GNF6702 (a proteasome inhibitor) that successfully cured all the three diseases in mice.

GNF6702 broad-spectrum antiprotozoal drug

GNF6702 (broad-spectrum antiprotozoal drug)

Reportedly, this compound didn’t at all harm the human cells in laboratory tests, which seemed to be quite an effective starting point for drug development. This drug is now entering safety tests before human trials.

As these three diseases are all caused due to similar parasites, which has invoked scientists to certainly believe that one therapy would be useful against the trio.

The causative agent for sleeping sickness is Trypanosoma brucei parasite, which spreads by the bite of the tsetse fly. Medically, this disorder is known as Human African trypanosomiasis, but its common name comes from the coma that is a consequence when the parasite penetrates the brain. It is found mostly in the sub-Saharan Africa.

The Infection Cycle of Sleeping SicknessFigure 1. The infection cycle of sleeping sickness (photo credit:

The causative agent for Chagas disease is Trypansosoma cruzi parasite. It enlarges the heart and digestive system, which is fatal and deadly. The “kissing” or “assassin” bug spreads the parasite. Chagas mostly affects people in Latin America, but has now spread to other continents as well.

chagas disease life cycleFigure 2. The infection cycle of Chagas disease (photo credit:

Leishmaniasis is caused by infection with Leishmania parasites and the bite of sandflies spreads the disease. A wide range of symptoms are seen depending on the part of the body that is infected, ranging from anaemia and fever to the total destruction of the lining of the nose, mouth and throat. It is mostly widespread in the Americas, Africa and Asia.

The infection cycle of LeishmaniasisFigure 3. The infection cycle of Leishmaniasis (photo credit: Wikipedia).

As told by the Research team, these three parasites infect for about 20 million people and kill 50,000 each year.

Certain drugs that exist to treat the infections are quite expensive and pathogenic. Being often given intravenously, it becomes extremely impractical in poor regions.

Dr Elmarie Myburgh, one of the researchers based at the University of York, told the BBC News website: “What makes it special is the fact it is targeting all three parasites. That’s the first time it has been done, so it is quite special.To me this is obviously a big deal, I’m in this field to try and make a difference, to get to a cure, and we’re working hard in the hope that it gets to patients.There’s been very little incentive to spend a lot of money on these diseases as they affect a very poor, and yet large, population.”

This drug functions by attacking the proteasomes of the parasites. The structures recycle waste proteins in the parasite. But crucially the chemical does not affect similar processes in mammalian cells.

The biology behind all the three diseases is different. For example in sleeping sickness the parasite is in the brain, so you need a drug that gets into the brain, so there are tweaks that might be required. These parasites are pretty nasty, highly prevalent parasites and affect people living in the most poverty-stricken parts of world. Thus, a lot is expected from this research which to be quite successful already.

Featured Image Credit: Bigstockphoto

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