Compound discovery has breakthrough potential for parasitic disease

Sleeping sickness parasite

Scientists have discovered a new class of compound that is potentially active against trypanosome parasites that cause human African trypanosomiasis (or sleeping sickness) and Chagas disease.

The findings – led by researchers at the University of Glasgow and Novartis Global Health (formerly Novartis Institutes for Tropical Diseases) – reveal potent compounds discovered for the two separate types of trypanosomiases, showing potential for development as new medicines for these diseases.

The study demonstrated that the compounds were able to cure a mouse model of sleeping sickness with just a single dose, and a short course of daily doses across five days cured Chagas disease in the same models.

African trypanosomiasis (or sleeping sickness) is a major killer disease which puts around 70 million people at risk in sub-Saharan African countries and is invariably fatal if untreated or inadequately treated.

Meanwhile, around seven million people are currently infected by Chagas disease, which can cause irreversible damage to the heart and digestive tract.

There are currently no drugs available that effectively cure Chagas disease; while for sleeping sickness, there have been some steps forward toward new therapies in recent years.

The compounds, called cyanotriazoles (CTs), kill parasites without adversely affecting host cells by selectively binding to a parasite enzyme (called topoisomerase II) and introducing breaks into the DNA that are lethal to the parasites.

Mike Barrett, Professor of Biochemical Parasitology at the University of Glasgow, said: “Compounds with this degree of potency, working through a newly discovered mechanism, represent a major breakthrough. If they are proven to be safe in humans and retain the levels of activity seen in mice, they could offer the first effective therapy of Chagas disease which afflicts millions of people in Latin America.”

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