African sleeping sickness is a neglected tropical disease which represents a health and economic burden in the developing world. It begins with mild, non-specific symptoms that do not usually prompt patients to seek treatment. However, over time, the parasite that causes the illness (Trypanosoma brucei subspecies) infiltrates the central nervous system and becomes a disease with serious neurological symptoms, culminating in death if not treated. As its name implies, African sleeping sickness occurs exclusively in sub-Saharan Africa, where tsetse flies carry T. brucei and where the population is generally too poor to warrant interest from major drug development ventures.
The Tres Cantos Open Lab Foundation announced this week the funding of a one year joint project with the Institute of Parasitology and Biomedicine "López-Neyra" (IPBLN) of the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) and Northeastern University, which aims to identify new treatments for the disease. The collaboration, between Michael Pollastri, an associate professor of chemistry at Northeastern and Miguel Navarro CSIC Investigator at the IPBLN, employs a high-throughput screen of 30,000 kinase–targeted inhibitors for effectiveness against T. brucei.
The funds provided by the Tres Cantos Open Lab Foundation will support three visiting scientists to come to GlaxoSmithKline’s R&D centre in Tres Cantos (Spain) to pursue their project as part of a drug discovery team and to tap into GSK´s resources and facilities. The compound screen commenced in Spain earlier this month, with a goal of identifying compounds that can serve as a starting point for optimization. Based on these lead compounds, new compound analogs will be synthesized and tested in the screen. “The compounds in a drug company’s files are predominantly drug-like,” Pollastri says. “The structures are such that you can modify them pretty quickly, and as a result are an attractive starting point”.
“The Tres Cantos Open Lab Foundation offers academic teams such as those of Principal Investigators Pollastri and Navarro support to work with scientists at the GSK R&D Centre, with the aim of developing drugs against neglected diseases such as T. brucei. This is an excellent example of the Tres Cantos approach: ensuring that high quality academic research can be translated into treatments for the many diseases that afflict the poorest and most underprivileged people on the planet”, said Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, Trustee and Chair of the Governing Board, Tres Cantos Open Lab Foundation (currently Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, previously Chief Executive of the Medical Research Council).