The Wellcome Trust (UK) has awarded a $5 million drug discovery grant to Anacor Pharmaceuticals in partnership with Professor Rick Tarleton in the University of Georgia Department of Cellular Biology, and Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases.
There is significant need for new treatments for Chagas disease, which is caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi. The disease can be spread by insect vectors, blood transfusions, and from infected mothers to their newborn children. Between 10 and 20 million people, mostly in Central and South America, are infected with the parasite, and the disease results in over 10,000 annual deaths. Chagas disease kills more people in Latin America than any other parasitic disease, including malaria. An increasing number of cases are also being documented outside the normal high transmission areas, including in the U.S. and Europe.
Although in use for more than four decades, the two drugs available to treat Chagas – benznidazole and nifurtimox – require a long course of therapy (60-90 days), have serious safety concerns (20-30% of side effects result in treatment discontinuation), fail to cure in a significant number of patients (a result of natural resistance of some isolates to current drugs), and are contraindicated in pregnancy. Thus, there is a critical need for new drugs that address these significant shortcomings of existing therapeutics. Oxaboroles – pioneered by Anacor Pharmaceuticals – have emerged in preliminary studies as a class that can potentially fill this important need. The Wellcome award allows Anacor and Professor Tarleton to develop oxaboroles as new treatments for Chagas disease.