Prototype Drug for Sleeping Sickness in New Trials


Tests on a daily pill for curing sleeping sickness have started in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and similar trials will shortly follow in the Central African Republic, a campaign group said Thursday.

Researchers will carry out Phase II/III trials of fexinidazole, which targets parasites blamed for two different strains of sleeping sickness, the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi) said.

They are enrolling 510 patients at five clinical sites in DR Congo, which will be shortly followed by trials at another site in Central African Republic, the organisation said.

Sleeping sickness, also known as human African trypanosomiasis, or HAT, is transmitted by tsetse flies found in 36 sub-Saharan African countries.

There are often no symptoms in the initial stage of the disease, but at the second stage the parasites cross into the central nervous system and the brain, where they can be lethal if untreated.

It is sometimes called sleeping sickness because the parasites infect the brain and disrupt the sleep cycle.

Two drug types already exist for tackling HAT, but are laden with problems and are complicated and costly to administer.

One, melarsoprol, is an arsenic-based treatment that kills around five percent of patients.

The other, eflornithine, is costly, requires long hospital treatment, is not effective against all forms of the disease and appears to be encountering parasite resistance.

Sleeping sickness is considered a neglected disease because it has relatively few patients and it afflicts mainly poor people.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated last June that there were around 30,000 current cases, while DNDi said children below the age of 15 accounted for nearly a quarter of the patients.

"This is a major step in research and development for neglected tropical diseases," said DNDi's executive director Bernard Pecoul, whose organisation brings together public and private funding and expertise.

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