Malaria clinic

A specialised centre focusing on the development of drugs for infectious diseases commonly found in developing countries, such as tuberculosis (TB) and malaria, is to be set up by The University of Dundee in Scotland, UK, it was announced today.

By establishing ‘A Centre of Excellence for Lead Optimisation for Diseases of the Developing World at the Drug Discovery Unit (DDU), the university will address the urgent need for drug treatment for infectious diseases such as African sleeping sickness, tuberculosis and malaria, which kill thousands each year.

Researchers at the centre will address the shortage of potential drugs making it to the lead optimisation stage of molecules targeting these diseases.

This is a labour intensive but key stage in the drug discovery process, where early leads are improved through cycles of design, synthesis and testing to identify potential drugs that are suitable for testing in a clinical setting.

Funded by Wellcome Trust and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, with a £6.5m investment over five years, the new centre will create 11 jobs.

University of Dundee researcher Professor Paul Wyatt said; "One of the main aims of the Drug Discovery Unit is to make inroads into developing drugs for diseases that affected the developing world. We have the capability through the DDU to help break the bottleneck which occurs at a key stage of the drug discovery process."

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TB, the world’s second-leading infectious killer, will be the initial focus for researchers.

They will identify a portfolio of TB Lead Optimisation projects through the DDU’s involvement with the global HIT-TB consortium and TB Drug Accelerator Program, and will identify and optimise multiple series of related TB-killing compounds that could be taken up by the team.

TB disproportionately affects developing countries; in 2010 it caused 1.4m deaths, 8.8m new infections and 450,000 drug-resistant TB cases.

The long-term treatment regimen currently used for TB contributes to high treatment default rates, which can lead to increased disease transmission, drug resistance and death.

Wellcome Trust business development head Dr Richard Seabrook said; "We are pleased to be co-funding with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on this exciting UK project, bringing together internationally renowned experts in the biology of infectious diseases with a first-class drug discovery unit to tackle some of the world’s most profound medical needs."

Image: The centre has been set up to develop treatments for suffers of infectious diseases, such as the patients at this malaria clinic in Tanzania. Photo: Courtesy of Jeffrey Gluck.