Chagas disease, caused by the protozoan parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, is a potentially life-threatening illness currently afflicting eight to ten million people worldwide. Latin America is home to the vast majority of Chagas patients, as the disease is most commonly transmitted through contact with the faeces of triatomine insects, also known as ‘kissing bugs,’ which are endemic to 21 different countries in Latin America. Acute symptoms are often absent or mild, and if left untreated, a chronic infection causes cardiac disorders in up to 30 percent of patients, and digestive, neurological or mixed complications. In later years, the parasites’ progressive destruction of the heart can lead to sudden death or heart failure.
Two treatments exist for Chagas disease, benzidazol and nifurtimox, both with near 100 percent efficacy if administered soon after infection, but diminishing in effectiveness as the length of the infection increases. Due to nifurtimox’s more severe side effects, benzidazol is the preferred treatment.
In 2003, Roche, the originator and primary manufacturer of benzidazol, transferred the technology to LAFEPE, a Brazilian public laboratory. As awareness and understanding of Chagas disease increased over the following years, demand for the drug drastically increased putting pressure LAFEPE, who lacked adequate support from the Brazilian ministry of health. When stocks of benznidazol that had been produced by Roche prior to the technology transfer expired in November 2010, a long foreseen global shortage began in earnest, leaving thousands of infected patients without any available treatment.
In response, the Mundo Sano foundation and Chemo Group developed their own benznidazol formulation with the support of Argentinian public laboratories and the Argentinian ministry of health. Laboratorio Elea manufactures the final formulation while Maprimed handles the production of the API, and the product was launched under the name Abarax in 2012. Argentinian scientists participating in two different international forums for tropical diseases in 2012 announced that the product was the product of a public-private partnership, and that the lab would soon be able to begin exporting Abarax to other endemic countries. Today, Elea is the primary producer of benznidazol worldwide, and has developed adult and paediatric dosage forms.
Several other Argentinian laboratories have entered partnerships with the objective of developing a vaccine for the prevention of Chagas disease. In May 2014, the French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi has contributed a “chemical library” of 2,000 molecules considered to be potential candidates for new Chagas disease treatments to a cultured Trypanosoma cruzi toxicity study being conducted by the Argentinian National Scientific Research Council (CONICET). Back in 2007, the Argentinian laboratory Gador announced a partnership with the British firm PepTcell (now SEEK) to develop a T-Cell vaccine for Trypanosoma cruzi.
Article written by Alexander Ackerman
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