LONDON – Scientists have found a single class of drugs that can kill the parasites responsible for three tropical diseases that affect millions in Africa, Asia and Latin America - Chagas disease, leishmaniasis and sleeping sickness.
In a study published in the journal Nature, scientists at the Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation found the compound can cure all three diseases in mice, and does not harm normal human cells in laboratory tests.
This provides a strong starting point for developing new drugs to replace existing treatments that are expensive, sometimes not very effective, and can also have side effects.
Chagas, leishmaniasis and sleeping sickness kill more than 50,000 people a year, but receive relatively little funding for research and drug development.
They have different symptoms but are all caused by parasites called kinteoplastids with similar biology and genetics.
Hoping to find a shared weak spot in that biology, the scientists tested around 3 million chemicals on them. They identified a compound, called GNF6702, that worked against the parasites, and then refined it to make it more potent before testing in it mice.
"We found that these parasites harbor a common weakness. We hope to exploit this weakness to discover and develop a single class of drugs for all three diseases," said Frantisek Supek, who led the work.
The fact that GNF6702 seems to have no adverse effects in mice suggests it might have fewer side-effects than existing drugs, the researchers said, although this will need to be tested in human studies.