Scientists at the Wellcome Centre for Anti-Infectives Research (WCAIR) at the University of Dundee have been awarded £4.9million in follow-on funding from the Wellcome Trust, boosting their efforts to understand more about potential drugs that could be used to treat neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) and other parasitic diseases.
The Mode of Action group, established in 2015 and integrated within WCAIR on its inception in 2017, investigates the mechanisms of action of compounds showing promise for the treatment of neglected tropical diseases, principally African sleeping sickness, visceral leishmaniasis and Chagas’ disease. There is urgent need for new medicines to tackle these parasitic infections that impact the lives of millions of people in tropical and sub-tropical countries.
Dr Susan Wyllie, who leads the Mode of Action group, explained, “Understanding precisely how potential drugs kill parasites can be vitally important in developing effective drug therapies. Working closely with drug discovery teams from around the world, we have determined the mechanism of action of more than 25 compounds, including three compounds that are now in clinical development.
“We are immensely proud that our research is making a major contribution to the delivery of improved drug therapies for these devastating parasitic diseases.”
Professor Ian Gilbert, Head of the Division of Biological Chemistry and Drug Discovery and co-lead on this new award, said, “This new Wellcome funding will help us to expand the range of techniques that we employ to understand drug mechanisms of action. We will also begin to apply these approaches to the study of other parasitic diseases, cryptosporidiosis and schistosomiasis in the first instance.
“We are very excited to work with Wellcome on this project alongside our collaborators within WCAIR – Aberystwyth University and the Helmholtz Institute for Pharmaceutical Research Saarland (HIPS). Our hope is that this research will accelerate the delivery of new drug treatments for parasitic diseases that particularly affect low- and middle-income countries.”
As well as helping progress potential new treatments, the Mode of Action group has also identified compounds that are not suitable for development, enabling scientists to focus on the most promising targets.
Dr Diana Tay, Senior Innovations Partner at Wellcome, said, “To date, the Mode of Action group have carried out vital work in understanding drug mechanisms, accelerating the delivery of new and improved treatments for NTD patients.
“Through Wellcome’s Hub for Innovative Technologies for NTDs (HIT NTD) Flagship, we hope this funding will continue to provide crucial and much-needed insights into promising, novel drug compounds coming from the drug discovery and development programmes supported by Wellcome’s HIT NTD Flagship.”
Karl Hoffman, Professor of Parasitology at Aberystwyth University, said, “We are incredibly pleased to continue our collaboration with the University of Dundee and to initiate a new collaboration with the Helmholtz Institute for Pharmaceutical Research Saarland in progressing our discovery of new drugs to treat schistosomiasis and other neglected tropical diseases. Funding from the Wellcome Trust demonstrates a clear and continued commitment to support research aimed at providing new treatments for patients infected by these devastating parasites and the diseases that they cause.”
In 2018 the Mode of Action group was awarded the GlaxoSmithKline Scientific Termination of Projects (STOP) Award for pulling the plug on the development of compound series aimed at treating visceral leishmaniasis and Chagas’ diseases, after establishing the compounds had the potential to damage human cells.
WCAIR is based within the School of Life Sciences at the University of Dundee and brings together the Drug Discovery Unit (DDU), the Mode of Action group and several Parasitology focused research groups. With the daily interactions, parasitology and drug discovery teams can work together in synergy. This empowers the groups within WCAIR to create potential new treatments for diseases that affect over 1 billion people across the world.
HIPS is a branch of the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI), jointly founded in collaboration between the HZI and Saarland University in 2009. Researchers at HIPS focus at the discovery and development of novel drugs for treating infectious diseases, as well as their transport to the site of action.