The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has announced a grant of $1.15 million to an international public-private partnership in support of its efforts to develop a new pediatric drug to combat schistosomiasis, also known as bilharzia.
Schistosomiasis is the second most prevalent tropical disease, behind malaria, and can damage internal organs and impair physical and cognitive development in children. The debilitating disease is found primarily in developing countries where access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation is limited.
The partnership was launched in July 2012 and includes TI Pharma, Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, Astellas Pharma, and Merck KGaA. The grant from the Gates Foundation will be used to finance research and development activities, and to eventually move the new formulation into Phase I clinical trials. The funds will further allow the partners to recruit disease researchers from around the globe to assist with the project.
While a treatment is available in the form of oral tablets for adults and children age 6 or older, young children often have trouble swallowing the tablets due to their size and bitter taste. Because of this, the partnerships will work primarily to develop a pediatric drug appropriate for pre-school aged children, a high-risk group for the disease.
“There is an urgent need for the treatment of schistosomiasis in very young children, for whom there is currently no approved therapy. The support of the Gates Foundation is a key step in moving forward with new options for this highly vulnerable population with the ultimate goal of elimination,” said Annalisa Jenkins, Chair of the Consortium Board and Head of Global Drug Development and Medical at Merck Serono, the biopharmaceutical division of Merck.
The disease is endemic in 78 developing countries, infecting over 243 million people around the world each year. If it does not get treated properly, the disease can lead to anemia, stunted growth, reduced learning ability, and can be fatal. Currently a treatment with praziquantel for young children is non-existent, and thanks to funding form the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the international partnership is working to change that.
– Ali Warlich
Sources: PND, 4-Traders