New worm infections drug unveiled

RESEARCHERS at Ifakara Health Institute (IHI) in collaboration with Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute (Swiss TPH) have confirmed the first new drug for treating human parasitic worm infections.

The new drug candidate known as “Emodepside” has proved to be effective in treating three main soil-transmitted helminths namely trichuris trichiura (whipworm), hookworm and ascaris lumbricoides (roundworm).

Soil-transmitted helminth infections are caused by different species of parasitic worms, including whipworms, hookworms and roundworms.

The current treatments recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) are Albendazole and Mebendazole.

A scientist at IHI Emmanuel Mrimi, who participated in the research said in a statement released by IHI recently that their initiatives have resulted in the production of a new drug that performs exceptionally well in treating whipworm infections.

“Emodepside performed exceptionally well in treating whipworm infections. The lowest single dose of 5mg of Emodepside cured eight out of ten people infected with whipworm, whereas Albendazole only cured two out of ten. Also, a single dose of 15 mg of Emodepside cured all people infected with whipworm. This achievement is unheard of, to the best of our knowledge,” he said.

The new drug is the results of a research that was conducted together with the Public Health Laboratory Ivo de Carneri (PHL-IdC), in Pemba Island, Tanzania.

Overall, 442 participants that were infected with one or more of the three mentioned main soil-transmitted helminthes were enrolled and randomly assigned to Emodepside, Albendazole or placebo treatment groups.

PHL-IdC is an integral part of the local health care system in Zanzibar and a reference center for monitoring and evaluation of national control programmes for endemic diseases and implementing related operational research and studies.

It works closely with the Ministry of Health – Zanzibar and the Ivo de Carneri Foundation (Milan, Italy) and WHO. PHL-IdC also collaborates with national and international scientific institutions to implement global strategies of disease surveillance and control.

Researchers at Swiss TPH and Ifakara tested the efficacy and safety of Emodepside against the three most important soil-transmitted helminths in Pemba Island in Tanzania.

They conducted two clinical trials in collaboration with PHL-IdC from Pemba Island. The trials aimed to assess the percentage of people cured from whipworm and hookworm infections after receiving a single dose of Emodepside. Additionally, the researchers also examined the safety of a single dose of Emodepside with evaluations done in comparison to Albendazole, a commonly used drug.

Head of the Helminth Drug Development Unit at the Swiss TPH Jennifer Keiser said: “Swiss TPH already tested the drug in laboratory studies. Based on the promising results in the laboratory, we saw the potential for treating patients infected with soil-transmitted helminths. No new anthelminthic has been developed in the past decades. So, this is a huge milestone towards controlling and eliminating soil-transmitted helminthiases.”

For his part, Chief Executive Officer of PHL-IdC Said Ali said: “This is fantastic news for people affected by these parasitic infections. We have been enduring the hardships caused by these infections for a long time, so this development brings us great joy and hope.”

Worldwide, more than 1.5 billion people are infected with at least one soil-transmitted helminth, with most of the infected population living in low- and middle income countries.

Infected people can experience symptoms like stomach pain, diarrhea and anaemia, while heavy infections can lead to malnutrition, impaired growth and physical development. In severe cases, it can even cause blockages in the intestine that may require surgery.

To treat soil-transmitted helminth infections, safe drugs are available but the efficacy varies widely.

However, in the case of the whipworm (trichuris trichiura) a single dose of these drugs can only cure 17 per cent of the infected people as shown in this study. Moreover, as drug resistance is on the rise, new alternative treatments are urgently needed.

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