New agreement signed to join forces to tackle Chagas disease

[Geneva, Switzerland/Barcelona, Spain – March 15, 2010]
Today, Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative, the Barcelona Centre for International Health Research and the Clinic Foundation for Biomedical Research signed an agreement to join forces on clinical research on Chagas disease. Dr.  Bernard Pècoul, Executive Director of the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi), Dr. Pedro L. Alonso, Director of the Barcelona Centre International Health Research (CRESIB)/Hospital Clínic-Barcelona University, and Mr. Emili Bargalló, Director of the Clinic Foundation for Biomedical Research (FCRB), signed the agreement, which will allow enhancing and maximizing resources and efforts in clinical research for Chagas diseases, with the ultimate goal to improve and obtain effective treatments.

Over eight million people across Central and South America are infected with Chagas disease, and every year an estimated 14,000 people die as a consequence of the infection. Chagas kills more people in this region than any other parasite-borne disease, but as a result of migration also surfaces in non-endemic countries and regions as Australia, North America, Japan and Europe.

Currently, there are only two treatments for Chagas disease available: nifurtimox and benznidazole. Discovered decades ago, these drugs have limited efficacy and a poor tolerability profile in adults; this is why, the development of a new, effective treatment is an urgent need in the fight against Chagas disease. DNDi and CRESIB will work on establishing and fostering joint research projects, harmonizing procedures to support the implementation and start off clinical trials while maximizing the impact of the resources and benefits from both sides, sharing their experiences, facilities and contacts with the goal to progress in obtaining an effective treatment for Chagas disease.

Led by Dr. Joaquim Gascon, CRESIB is an institution of reference in the field of research of Chagas disease, which also has created a specialised care centre for adults suffering from Chagas disease in Cochabamba, Bolivia. This initiative fell within the framework of a cooperation project funded jointly by the Spanish and Catalan Cooperation Agencies (AECID-ACCD), the researcher Professor Faustino Torrico at the Universidad Mayor de San Simón in Cochabamba, and the National Chagas Plan (Bolivia), in order to exchange management models, promote research projects and share working groups.

DNDi is a not-for-profit product development partnership, working in research and development (R&D) and is driven by the needs of the patients. DNDi, with this agreement will be able to boost its research projects aiming at developing new, effective treatments for Chagas disease. In addition to sponsoring and designing the project, DNDi recently added, through an agreement signed with the Japanese pharmaceutical company Eisai, the development of a promising drug, E1224, a ravuconazole pro-drug (an antifungal, which is an effective product to fight fungal infections), to treat Chagas disease. DNDi will coordinate the phase IIA/B clinical trials with E-1224, showing in vivo and in vitro activity against the pathogen responsible for Chagas disease. The first phase in the assessment of the compound will be conducted in Bolivia, and the follow-up will have a multi-centric approach involving the participation of the Hospital Clínic in Barcelona, amongst others.  This new agreement with CRESIB and FCRB will increase the possibilities of success, strengthening the scientific capacities initially in Bolivia, and later in the Hospital Clínic in Barcelona. The director of CRESIB, Dr. Pedro L. Alonso, says: “DNDi and CRESIB share a common interest in providing sustainable and affordable treatments for neglected diseases such as Chagas disease. Our collaboration will generate innovative alternatives to develop new treatments and new diagnostic tools.” Dr. Bernard Pécoul, Executive Director of DNDi states: “It has been over 100 year since Chagas disease was discovered, but it still remains one of the most neglected diseases. Very little investment has been put into research and development. This collaboration is a great opportunity to bolster both parties’ efforts to achieve rapidly significant international progress in drug and clinical research”.

About Chagas Disease
Chagas disease is a public health problem, not only in the poorest areas in Latin America, but through migration also increasingly in non-endemic countries. The disease is caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, which is transmitted primarily by insects known as “kissing bugs” or vinchuca. Chagas disease occurs in two stages. An acute stage, where the affected persons are either asymptomatic or show unspecific symptoms; and a chronic stage in which 30-40% of the cases develop serious heart or the digestive complications. If left untreated the condition may lead to death.

About DNDi (
The Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi) is a not-for-profit product development partnership, working to research and develop new and improved treatments for neglected diseases, in particular human African trypansomiasis, leishmaniasis, Chagas disease, and malaria. DNDi was established in 2003, by the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation from Brazil, the Indian Council for Medical Research, the Kenya Medical Research Institute, the Ministry of Health of Malaysia and the Pasteur Institute from France, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and with the UNDP/World Bank/WHO Special Programme for the Research and Training in Tropical Diseases (TDR), acting as a permanent observer.

DNDi seeks to fill some of the existing gaps in essential drug R&D, implementing and coordinating projects in this field, in collaboration with the international scientific community, the public sector, the pharmaceutical industry and other partners. DNDi, based in Geneva, has a permanent team of 30 scientific researchers, in addition to other professionals.  DNDi has the largest R&D portfolio for kinetoplastid diseases. Since 2007, DNDi has delivered three products, two fixed-dose anti-malarials “ASAQ” (artesunate/amodiaquine) and “ASMQ” (artesunate/mefloquine), and a combination treatment for the advanced stage of sleeping sickness, “NECT” (nifurtimox-eflornithine combination therapy). Furthermore, in 2009 DNDi signed a collaboration and license agreement with the Japanese pharmaceutical company Eisai Co. Ltd. for the clinical development of the promising compound E1224, to treat Chagas disease. The pipeline for Chagas disease also includes a paediatric formulation of benznidazole.

The Barcelona Centre for International Health Research, CRESIB (Hospital Clínic- Barcelona University), is a global health research institute created by leading institutions in the academic and biomedical research field in Barcelona: Hospital Clínic, Barcelona University and IDIBAPS that, together with the Generalitat de Cataluña, seeks to address the new international health challenges of the 21st Century. CRESIB’s mission is to carry out international studies relevant to improve the health of the populations living in or migrating from poor areas. CRESIB’s activity revolves around four focal points: research in the field of diseases related to poverty and migratory flows, training-capacity building (developing its own training programmes  in collaboration with other institutions), technical and health cooperation and assistance (with Central and South America, Maghreb, Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and Oceania), and research platforms (Mozambique: Centro de Investigaçao em Saúde de Manhiça, CISM-Fundaçao Manhiça, Morocco: Ministry of Health, Mother and Child Programme, and in Bolivia: Universidad Mayor de San Simón, Ministry of Health, National Chagas Programme). Last year, CRESIB formalised, through Fundació Clínic per a la Recerca Biomédica (Clinic Foundation for Biomedical Research), the training and research platform with the Universidad Mayor de San Simón of Cochabamba. The creation of this new centre, following the guidelines of the Bolivian MoH National Chagas Plan, contributes, in a relevant way, to consolidating a public health action and addressing endemic problems in the case of Bolivia and new health challenges in Catalonia and Spain.

About Clinic Foundation for Biomedical Research (Fundació Clínic per a la Recerca Biomédica)
Fundació Clínic per a la Recerca Biomèdica (FCRB) manages the administrative infrastructure supporting research at Hospital Clínic in Barcelona, the Biomedical Research Institute Agustí Pi i Sunyer (IDIBAPS) and CRESIB. Since 1989, the FCRB has been fostering health science-related research and training. In addition to providing administrative support to research, it participates in raising resources and fostering biomedical research. The Foundation also supports specialised training activities and sees to that ethical codes in the sector are complied with and that professional ethics are applied. CRESIB uses this Foundation to carry out its cooperation activities. FCRB has played an essential role in the creation and development of a Chagas platform in Bolivia, and others including the creation and development of CISM in Mozambique and the Fundaçao Manhiça, recently created to manage this centre. Also worth highlighting, is the role FCRB plays in the National Programme to bolster Mother and Child Healthcare Strategies, health research and training of specialists in Morocco.

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