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News categories: Honors & Funding

Award for Drug Research on River Blindness & Elephantiasis

A∙WOL Team, including the Institute of Medical Microbiology, Immunology, and Parasitology, receives Royal Society of Chemistry Prize

The A∙WOL team has been awarded the Horizon Prize 2024 by the Royal Society of Chemistry for the discovery of potentially fast-acting, highly specific anti-Wolbachia candidates for the oral treatment of human filariasis. The team is a collaboration between the University of Liverpool, the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, Imperial College London, the University Hospital Bonn (UKB), and the University of Bonn, as well as industry partners AstraZeneca and Eisai Ltd, funded for many years by the Gates Foundation. Prof. Achim Hörauf and Prof. Marc Hübner from UKB and the University of Bonn were recognised for their contributions to combating rare tropical diseases.

Lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis) and onchocerciasis (river blindness) cause severe disabilities and affect over 72 million people worldwide. These neglected tropical diseases are caused by long-lived (10-14 years) parasitic roundworms. In Africa alone, more than 21 million people are infected with the roundworm Onchocerca volvulus, the causative agent of river blindness, and about one in ten affected individuals goes blind. The worms rely on a specific type of bacteria, Wolbachia, which can be eliminated with an already approved drug, doxycycline. "When these bacteria die, the parasite also dies after a few months," says Prof. Achim Hoerauf, an expert in neglected tropical diseases and director of the Institute of Medical Microbiology, Immunology, and Parasitology at UKB. He is also a member of the Transdisciplinary Research Area (TRA) "Life & Health" and the Cluster of Excelllence ImmunoSensation2 at the University of Bonn. His group introduced the therapy principle using doxycycline for filariasis over ten years ago. "However, the long treatment duration of at least 4 weeks and the contraindication for children, pregnant women, and breastfeeding mothers limit the use of doxycycline for mass treatment," says Prof. Marc Hübner, head of the Laboratory for Translational Microbiology at the Institute of Medical Microbiology, Immunology, and Parasitology at UKB and a member of the TRA "Life & Health" and Cluster of Excellence ImmunoSensation2 at the University of Bonn.

The team around Prof. Hoerauf has found another effective drug candidate, Corallopyronin A, for combating the parasites. This candidate, supported by the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF) and the Japanese GHIT Fund, is expected to enter clinical trials in the coming years. Corallopyronin A is a natural antibiotic expected to have shorter treatment durations and fewer side effects (see the news from 10/05/2024

Hope for a New Effective Treatment Principle

The joint drug research of the A-WOL team has now led to a first synthetic drug candidate that could offer an even shorter treatment duration compared to current options. The team has also identified other promising approaches for new drugs and is working with AstraZeneca to understand how these new chemical classes can eliminate Wolbachia in the worms. "We are very pleased with this award for our joint research, which has produced a potential first synthetic anti-Wolbachia (AWOL) drug candidate against filarial diseases. The principle works and requires further optimization," says Prof. Hörauf. Prof. Hübner adds, "Such candidates have the potential to significantly accelerate the elimination of onchocerciasis and lymphatic filariasis and improve the quality of life for millions of people."

Hoerauf Huebner PM
Prof. Marc Hübner (left) and Prof. Achim Hoerauf (right) were awarded the Horizon Prize by the Royal Society of Chemistry.
@ UKBonn

Press contact:

Dr. Inka Väth

Deputy Press Officer at the University Hospital Bonn (UKB)

Communications and Media Office at Bonn University Hospital


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