The University of California, San Francisco has announced grants totaling $16 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in support of research aimed at reducing childhood mortality and disease in developing countries.
The foundation awarded $4.3 million to a team of researchers led by James H. McKerrow, professor of pathology and pharmaceutical chemistry at UCSF, working to identify and develop a drug that kills filiariae, parasitic roundworms that cause river blindness, the leading cause of blindness in parts of West Africa. The researchers will use software developed by UCSF research specialist Chris Marcellino that significantly speeds the screening of candidate compounds. Working in collaboration with the UCSF Small Molecule Discovery Center, McKerrow's group expects to create a library of about 1,700 FDA-approved drugs that can be used in similar screens.
A second team led by UCSF professor Thomas M. Lietman, who also serves as associate director of the UCSF Francis I. Proctor Foundation for Research in Ophthalmology, was awarded $12 million to examine the effectiveness of administering the antibiotic azithromycin orally to reduce childhood mortality in three nations — Niger, Tanzania, and Malawi — with high childhood mortality rates. The study builds on an earlier project in which communities in Ethiopia that received mass doses of azithromycin to treat trachoma, a disease that causes blindness, experienced an overall reduction in childhood mortality from all causes.
"Now we need to see whether that effect can be replicated in areas that don't have a lot of trachoma," said Lietman. "If we want to make a public health difference, we have to show that we can reduce childhood mortality in areas that are not otherwise receiving mass antibiotics."