New drug for elephantiasis and river blindness could be on the horizon

  • Imperial College London
  • 15 Jan 2019

  • curated by Pavankumar Kamat
  • UK Medical News
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Researchers have developed a new potential drug candidate which could lower the treatment duration for elephantiasis (lymphatic filariasis) and river blindness (onchocerciasis). The molecule has been designed to specifically target and eliminate the parasitic worms causing the 2 conditions, while having lesser side-effects.

Elephantiasis causes severe and often painful swelling in the limbs, breasts or genitals, whereas river blindness manifests as severe itching and bumps under the skin, and is a common cause of blindness. Few drugs are capable of eliminating the worms in their adult stage; however, treatment could last for months and accompanied by side-effects and drug interactions.

The new molecule targets Wolbachia, a bacterial species, that thrives within the worms. The worms are believed to engage in a ‘symbiotic’ relationship with Wolbachia for their development and survival. By specifically targeting the bacteria, the drug is expected to act faster, have fewer side-effects and lower the risk for drug resistance.

For development of the drug, researchers at the University of Liverpool, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and Imperial College London screened 10,000 compounds to look for potential candidates, which could target the Wolbachia bacteria.

Professor Steve Ward from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine said: "The identification represents the first potential designer drug of its kind, specifically targeting Wolbachia as a curative treatment for onchocerciasis and lymphatic filariasis." The molecule is expected soon to be tested in pre-clinical trials.