Multi-talented drug for leishmaniasis?
A compound called fexinidazole is proving to be quite the multi-tasker for beating parasitic infections. Already in Phase 1 trials for one tropical disease, studies in mice have now shown that it can treat leishmaniasis as well. Visceral leishmaniasis kills 50,000 to 60,000 people a year in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The simple tests in mice have shown that fexinidazole could hold huge potential to cheaply and safely treat this deadly disease.
Fexinidazole was developed in the 80s but was shelved when the company that discovered it stopped its research into tropical diseases. In 2007 scientists began testing the drug again and found it to be an effective treatment for human African trypanosomiasis (HAT, also known as sleeping sickness). It is currently being tested for safety in humans in Phase 1 clinical trials.
The parasites that cause HAT and leishmaniasis are closely related and so scientists decided to see whether fexinidazole could have more than one use. They treated infected mice with fexinidazole and found that it reduced the number of leishmaniasis parasites in the blood by more than 98%, comparable to current treatments for the disease. But unlike existing treatments, fexinidazole could be produced more cheaply and appears to have fewer side effects.
Scientists will now conduct more tests to check that fexinidazole works against various strains of the parasite that infect people. If the results of those studies are favourable, development of the drug as a new oral treatment for leishmaniasis will be made faster and cheaper because of the ongoing HAT trials.
See also the AnimalResearch.info page on leishmaniasis