Five academic institutions, two governmental institutes and two leading SMEs from Europe, Africa and Latin America are joining forces to develop novel drugs against parasites. The four-year E.U.-funded project led by VU University Amsterdam is called PDE4NPD: PhosphoDiEsterase inhibitors for Neglected Parasitic Diseases.
Neglected parasitic diseases (NPDs) form an enormous obstacle to the development of communities across the world. The diseases are classified “neglected” as investments in finding cures for these illnesses are extremely low, especially when considering their devastating impact on human and veterinary health. The NPDs addressed in this project—Chagas’ disease, human African trypanosomiasis, leishmaniasis and schistosomiasis—collectively result in 6.6 million disability-adjusted life years.
During the last 30 years, only nine new drugs targeting these NPDs have come to market. Some of these treatments cause severe side effects, while others are very expensive or are threatened by drug resistance. A cause for this standstill is the lack of sufficient financial incentive, due to the low return on investment perspective for the pharmaceutical industry. A paradigm shift in policy and a substantial joint effort to address this drug discovery gap is urgently required.
The PDE4NPD project enables public and private partners to join forces within the E.U. Seventh Framework program to tackle these healthcare needs. The consortium consists of VU University Amsterdam, University of Glasgow, University of Kent, University of Antwerp, the Spanish National Research Council, Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, Theodor Bilharz Research Institute, European Screening Port, IOTA Pharmaceuticals and Top Institute Pharma and combines various drug discovery approaches into one platform that is dedicated to developing drugs against parasite PDEs, a family of well-characterized enzymes.
“Previous studies have shown that PDEs are highly druggable and that targeting parasite PDEs is a viable strategy to combat these diseases,” said Rob Leurs, PI, VU University, as well-known drugs such as Viagra and Daxas effectively target illnesses caused by human PDEs. “This consortium has all the expertise to develop parasite‐specific PDE inhibitors with high clinical potential. We will use state-of-the-art structural biology and screening technologies for finding new molecules with drug-like properties.”
In parallel, the consortium parasitology research groups will perform phenotypic screening on various parasite species to identify agents that will kill them. The consortium will further develop compounds demonstrating anti-parasitic activity through PDEs as the key drug target.
Leurs said, “Ultimately, PDE4NPD will develop into a generic platform in which any parasite PDE can be enrolled. The integrative approach allows the accumulation of fundamental knowledge with an efficiency that is typical for approaches that focus on a single cellular target.”
TI Pharma is involved in two Workpackages: WP1 (management) and WP8 (communication and dissemination). In WP1, TI Pharma will support the VU in organizing meetings, writing reports, tracking of project milestones and consolidation of project data. For the latter, TI Pharma’s proprietary PPP-tailored IT platform “TI Plaza” will be used. Furthermore, as Work Package leader for WP8, TI Pharma is responsible for communication and dissemination of the project, i.e. maintain the TI Plaza project space, build and maintain a public web site for the project, handling press releases and setting up a worldwide open innovation platform for Neglected Parasitic Diseases.