There is an urgent need for new drugs to treat infectious diseases of the developing world, such as tuberculosis (TB), malaria and African sleeping sickness. However, despite significant efforts in early stage drug discovery, there is a bottleneck when it comes to the lead optimisation stage of molecules targeting these diseases.
Lead optimisation is a key stage in the drug discovery process, where early leads are improved through cycles of design, synthesis and testing to identify potential drugs which are suitable for testing in a clinical setting. It is a labour intensive process requiring significant laboratory resource over a number of years.
To address this need Professor Paul Wyatt and colleagues at the Drug Discovery Unit (DDU) at the University of Dundee, with joint funding from the Wellcome Trust and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, are establishing “A Centre of Excellence for Lead Optimisation for Diseases of the Developing World”. The Dundee centre represents a £6.5million investment over five years and will create 11 new posts.
Professor Wyatt said, “One of the main aims of the Drug Discovery Unit is to make inroads into developing drugs for diseases that affected the developing world. We have the capability through the DDU to help break the bottleneck which occurs at a key stage of the drug discovery process.”
The initial focus will be on TB, the world’s second-leading infectious killer, disproportionately affecting developing countries; in 2010 causing 1.4 million deaths, 8.8 million new infections and 450 thousand drug-resistant TB cases. First-line therapies for TB are old and inadequate, taking six months to cure patients. The long treatment regimen contributes to high treatment default rates that can lead to increased disease transmission, drug resistance, and death.
The strategy is to identify a portfolio of TB Lead Optimisation projects through the DDU’s involvement with the global HIT-TB consortium and TB Drug Accelerator Program which are working to generate drug leads through their screening programmes.
The DDU as part of HIT-TB is already identifying and optimising multiple series of related compounds which kill TB that could be taken up by the team.
Dr Richard Seabrook, Head of Business Development at the Wellcome Trust, said: “We are pleased to be co-funding with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on this exciting UK project, bringing together internationally renowned experts in the biology of infectious diseases with a first-class drug discovery unit to tackle some of the world’s most profound medical needs.”
NOTES TO EDITORS
LIFE SCIENCES AT DUNDEE
With more than 1000 scientists, research students and support staff from 58 countries and external funding in excess of £30 million per year, the College of Life Sciences at the University of Dundee is one of the largest and most productive Life Sciences research institutes in Europe. The College has an international reputation for its basic and translational research and was recognised in the 2011 Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council Excellence with Impact Awards for ‘Greatest Delivery of Impact’. The University of Dundee is the central hub for a multi-million pound biotechnology sector in the east of Scotland, which now accounts for 16% of the local economy. www.dundee.ac.uk.
THE DRUG DISCOVERY UNIT
The Drug Discovery Unit (DDU) is the only fully operational, fully integrated drug discovery group working across multiple diseases based within a UK university. The DDU tackles unmet medical need through small molecule drug discovery, bridging the gap between academic scientific research and commercial drug discovery and development. We draw on the best of both these worlds, employing over 50 highly skilled, experienced scientists from both academic and pharmaceutical industry backgrounds, with a professional, pioneering approach to their work. Our aim is to collaborate with partners in Dundee and beyond to identify lead compounds, potential drug targets and novel tools and approaches to develop improved treatments for a wide range of debilitating and deadly diseases. www.drugdiscovery.dundee.ac.uk.
The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable foundation dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health. It supports the brightest minds in biomedical research and the medical humanities. The Trust’s breadth of support includes public engagement, education and the application of research to improve health. It is independent of both political and commercial interests. www.welcome.ac.uk.
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