Athens, Ga. – Researchers at the University of Georgia have received $1 million from the Wellcome Trust and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to speed the development of new drugs for the treatment of cryptosporidiosis, a major cause of diarrheal disease and mortality in young children around the world.
Cryptosporidiosis is caused by cryptosporidium, a microscopic parasite commonly spread through tainted drinking or recreational water. There is currently no vaccine and only a single drug of modest efficacy available to treat cryptosporidiosis.
“Cryptosporidiosis is a tremendous public health challenge,” said Boris Striepen, Distinguished Research Professor in Cellular Biology in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and a member of UGA’s Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases. “We are extremely grateful to the Trust and the Foundation for providing generous support and leadership to drive a global research agenda to face this challenge.”
Cryptosporidium is notoriously difficult to study in the laboratory, and this has stalled the development of better treatments. But earlier this year, Striepen and his research group created new tools to genetically manipulate the parasite, and his team will use funds from the Wellcome Trust and Gates Foundation to leverage this new technology and speed drug discovery.
The Wellcome Trust’s Pathfinder Award of $244,000 will support a collaboration between UGA and the Novartis Institute for Tropical Diseases, a public-private partnership between the pharmaceutical company Novartis and the Singapore Economic Development Board.
The Novartis Institute for Tropical Diseases “has been at the forefront of discovery of new treatments for malaria, tuberculosis and sleeping sickness,” Striepen said. “Engaging a group with this track record to the problem of cryptosporidiosis will be game changing.”
The primary goal of the joint project is to develop better assays to evaluate the effectiveness of drugs in cell cultures and mice. These assays will be used to discover novel candidate drugs using the Novartis Institute for Tropical Diseases’ large collection of candidates.
A $775,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will support the development of genetic technology to discover specific drug targets within the parasite, which will ultimately help enhance drug potency and reduce side effects.
Initially, the project will validate targets for drugs for which predictions for likely candidates can be made from prior experience-in particular from the related malaria parasite. In a second phase the project will discover the yet unknown targets of novel drugs.
“The need for effective treatment of cryptosporidiosis is critical, both nationally and internationally. This highly welcome initiative is a major step for those millions of children who globally suffer from this devastating disease,” said Dan Colley, director of CTEGD and former director of the CDC’s Division of Parasitic Diseases.
For more information on the UGA Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases, visit http://ctegd.uga.edu/.
The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable foundation dedicated to improving health. For more information, visit www.wellcome.ac.uk.
Writer: Donna Huber