An international public-private partnership launched in July 2012 has announced a $1.15 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in support of its efforts to develop a new pediatric formulation to combat schistosomiasis, a debilitating tropical disease that can damage internal organs and impair physical and cognitive development in children.
Launched in July 2012, the consortium, which includes TI Pharma, Merck KGaA, Astellas Pharma, and the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, will use the grant from Gates to finance research and development activities and, eventually, move the new formulation into Phase I clinical trials. In addition, the grant will enable the partners to recruit disease researchers from around the world to assist in the project. The partnership aims to develop a pediatric drug suitable for preschool children, a high-risk group for the disease. While the standard recommended treatment is available in oral tablets for adults and children age 6 or older, younger children cannot always swallow the tablets because of their size and bitter taste.
Schistosomiasis is the second most prevalent tropical disease in the world after malaria, and occurs primarily in developing countries with limited access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation. It is endemic in seventy-eight developing countries and affects more than 243 million people every year. If not treated, the disease can lead to anemia, stunting, and reduced learning ability, as well as death.
"There is an urgent need for the treatment of schistosomiasis in very young children, for whom there is currently no approved therapy," 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 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."