Top-cited paper award to helminth infections knowledge gaps

TDR news item
28 January 2014

A paper that raised awareness on the gaps of knowledge on the pharmacology of widely-used drugs for helminthic infections has been awarded a top-cited paper. It called for the creation of comprehensive research platforms to fill these knowledge gaps and investing in relatively simple studies, which would help enable improved therapies and new products for these diseases to standards that are comparable to those used for high-income countries.

The award was given for papers published between 2009-2013 in the International Journal for Parasitology. Helminthiasis are diseases caused by parasitic worms infecting various organs and causing a range of different illnesses, which seriously compromise human and economic development. The infections fit into the umbrella group of “neglected tropical diseases” which have this label because of an historic lack of attention to both conduct research for new tools and manage their control.

Information needed to improve treatments

Today it is possible to control helminthic infections like onchocerciasis, filariasis, schistosomiasis and intestinal nematodes with a handful of drugs which are given to millions of people. However, very little is known about how they interact with the human body and how they kill the parasites. Not having this basic information – which is available for many drugs for diseases affecting people in rich countries – further deprives disadvantaged populations of improved treatments.

All of the drugs used today were developed initially in response to the considerable market for veterinary anthelmintics in high- and middle-income countries. In contrast, the greatest burden caused by these infections in humans is in resource-poor settings and as a result there has been insufficient commercial incentive to support studies on how these drugs work in humans, and how they should best be used in control programmes.

The paper was written by an international group of scientists led by Professor Tim Geary of McGill University in Montreal and included TDR’s unit leader on intervention and implementation research Piero Olliaro, as well as retired TDR product development manager Janis Lazdins, and Dirk Engels, who was recently appointed to become Director of WHO’s Department of Neglected Tropical Diseases beginning in May.

For more information, contact:

Piero Olliaro (olliarop@who.int)

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