Gairdner Global Health award given to founder of ivermectin

TDR news item
7 April 2014

The Gairdner Global Health award has been given to Satoshi Omura for his role in the discovery and development of ivermectin. The Canadian award was made for the discovery of the microorganism Streptomyces avermitilis and its biologic activity that led to the development of ivermectin, a highly successful treatment for many parasitic diseases, and which helped control onchocerciasis for millions of Africans and has allowed the Americas to pursue the elimination of the disease.

The drug was developed by the Merck pharmaceutical company, but the path from discovery to implementation involved an international effort that covered the screening of active compounds to developing a new, community-based system of mass treatment.

TDR contributed to the effort in several ways, which was documented in a 1997 external review. It noted how the Programme mobilized an international network of researchers and institutions to establish a screening system to identify active compounds. TDR’s support of the Onchocerciasis Chemotherapy Research Centre in Ghana allowed Dr Awadzi and his team to develop a standardized method to quantify clinical reactions to microfilaricides. The method was used in a number of ivermectin clinical trials and eventually helped prove that ivermectin is a safe microfilaricide.

Once the drug was developed, the Kitasato Institute agreed to forego royalties and Merck agreed to provide ivermectin free of charge “as long as it is needed,” a pledge that is still being honoured.

TDR funded five Phase IV community-based studies in Liberia, Cameroon, Malawi, Guatemala, and Nigeria, and the Onchocerciasis Control Programme funded eight other studies in Ghana, Mali, Togo and Benin, Ivory Coast, Guinea, Burkina Faso, and Senegal.

In coordination with the Onchocerciasis Control Programme in West Africa and the African Programme for Onchocerciasis Control (APOC), a community-directed strategy was developed to implement the annual mass treatments needed. This led to a massive international effort that resulted in 60 million ivermectin tablets being distributed to approximately 13 million people between October 1988 and May 1996. Support was provided by Merck, WHO, 32 national governments (out of 34 endemic countries in Africa, Middle East, and Latin America), and 12 international non-governmental organizations.

For more information, please contact

Jamie Guth
TDR Communications Manager
Telephone: +41 79 441 2289
E-mail:guthj@who.int

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