The facets of TDR research from drug discovery to implementation

First meeting in the Americas region

Field trips show TDR-supported collaborations in Chagas disease diagnostics and antimalarial drugs

Brazil’s activities in the research arena, and TDR’s role in those collaborations, were further highlighted by a series of field trips to research laboratories and field sites. These followed the close of the formal JCB session.

JCB participants visited the Fiocruz’s research laboratories at its Manguinhos headquarters where among other projects, development of a new and more accurate diagnostic test for Chagas disease has been taking place.

The Chagas diagnostic test is an example of Fiocruz research that received initial support from TDR, and has since moved successfully from a basic research concept to product development. In 1989, TDR provided a grant for US$ 250 000 to Professor Samuel Goldenberg, of Fiocruz’s Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Goldenberg and a Fiocruz team used the grant in the development and testing of recombinant DNA-based antigens that can react to (and thus identify the presence of) Trypanosoma cruzi, the parasite that causes Chagas disease. Since the disease can be asymptomatic for years before serious cardiac and intestinal damage becomes evident, improved diagnostics are a critical step to improving disease treatment overall (see page 14).

The new antigen test has now been refined and evaluated over two decades of research. A diagnostic test prototype is to be completed by the end of 2008. A manufacturing facility recently built by Fiocruz will produce the tests, with plans for the production of up to 12 million kits a year.

JCB participants also visited Fiocruz’s René Rachou Research Centre (CPqRR) in Belo Horizonte, which is testing the use of natural plant extracts as potential products to control neglected parasitic diseases, and the Institute of Pharmaceutical Technology at its Far-Manguinhas campus in Rio de Janeiro. Here, on the grounds of a former GlaxoSmithKline facility, Fiocruz in 2007 completed the development of the antimalarial drug combination artesunate-mefloquine (AS-MQ), a drug combination that was initiated and technically supported by TDR in early development stages, and later transferred over to the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi). In 2008, the drug was registered by the Brazilian Regulatory Agency ANVISA and launched on 18 April as a result of a project now funded by Fiocruz and DNDi. (Both TDR and Fiocruz are founding members of DNDi).