Helminth infections affect the poorest and most deprived communities. More than 1.5 billion people are infected with at least one soil-transmitted helminth worldwide.
Bayer and the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute (Swiss TPH) are collaborating in the clinical development of an active substance for the treatment of humans infected with soil-transmitted helminths. This collaboration follows the encouraging results of a Phase II study of an active substance in patients with whipworm (Trichuris trichiura) and hookworm (Ancylostoma duodenale and Necator americanus) infections conducted by Swiss TPH and its partners in Tanzania, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine on May 18, 2023, and showed good efficacy.
“Bayer is committed to fight neglected tropical diseases”, said Christian Rommel, Head of Research and Development and Member of the Executive Committee at Bayer Pharmaceuticals. “The development of the compound with the team at Swiss TPH for patients who have been infected with soil-transmitted helminths is an example of how we join forces to discover new treatments for patients suffering from infections with soil-transmitted helminths.”
The compound is an anthelmintic substance that is effective against several gastrointestinal nematodes in domestic animals but is not yet approved for human use. Researchers from Swiss TPH and partners in Tanzania showed its efficacy in two Phase II studies in humans infected with whipworm and hookworm, conducted on the island of Pemba.
In the studies, the active substance showed high cure rates for all soil-transmitted helminths investigated. The lowest dose tested, cured 83 percent of people infected with whipworms. The increase of the dose resulted in an increase of the cure rate to 92 percent. “Such a high cure rate of patients infected with whipworm has not been observed so far with the current anthelminthic drugs”, emphasized Professor Jennifer Keiser, principal investigator of the study.
“Our partnership with Bayer aims to jointly develop an effective therapy for humans infected with soil-transmitted helminths”, said Jürg Utzinger, Director of Swiss TPH. “Although drugs are available for treatment of these infections, there is a pressing need for further high effective therapies that are safe and efficacious, particularly in view of the risk of resistance development to current treatments.”
Parasitic worm infections affect the poorest and most deprived communities with poor access to clean water, sanitation, and hygiene in tropical and subtropical areas, with the highest prevalence reported from sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and South America.
Soil-transmitted helminth infections are caused by different species of parasitic worms, including whipworms, hookworms, and roundworms. Infected people can experience symptoms like stomach pain, diarrhoea, and anaemia and heavier infections can lead to malnutrition, impaired growth, and delayed physical development. In severe cases, it can even cause blockages in the intestine that may require surgery. Worldwide, more than 1.5 billion people are infected with at least one soil-transmitted helminth species.
The collaboration with Swiss TPH adds to Bayer’s existing product development partnership with the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi) to develop a treatment option for onchocerciasis (river blindness), which could significantly shorten the duration of treatment and ultimately control the disease.
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