More than 1.4 billion people are exposed to the dangers of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). This group of diseases is classed as “neglected” because, despite the significant number of people impacted by them, they have historically received less attention and research funding than other diseases. Neglected tropical diseases occur particularly in developing countries. We are committed to pursuing our R&D efforts in order to improve the lives of the millions of people who suffer from NTDs in developing countries. Currently, we are conducting NTD research and development for schistosomiasis and malaria.
We believe that the most effective way to achieve progress and develop new approaches to fighting NTDs is to work through robust public-private partnerships, innovative alliances and interdisciplinary approaches in health and development. Besides our existing partnerships, we are open to engaging in new multilateral partnerships.
Within the framework of our Praziquantel Donation Program (MPDP), we are working to optimize the formulation of the drug. In particular, this involves a tablet coating that will make it easier for school-age children to swallow the tablets and will better protect the drug against external influences. Furthermore, a hint of fruit flavor has been added to make the tablets more palatable for children. Within the scope of a public-private partnership (PPP), we are also researching a new formulation of praziquantel for pre-school children. Praziquantel tablets in their current form are suitable for adults and children over the age of six; for children younger than six, it is currently not possible to properly treat the disease. A pediatric formulation of praziquantel will significantly contribute to achieving the goal of eliminating schistosomiasis in Africa. The partners of this PPP, which was founded in July 2012, include Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, TI Pharma, Astellas Pharma Inc., and the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute (Swiss TPH) in Basel.
In a partnership with the Tropical Disease Research (TDR) program of the World Health Organization (WHO), we are involved in the discovery and development of new treatments for malaria. A lead compound to treat malaria was identified in 2010. We are currently running a lead optimization program internally that has resulted in the preclinical testing of several candidate compounds.
In 2012, Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany sponsored a position for a post-doctoral scientist in Geneva to conduct research on malaria compounds. Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany furthermore provided supervision, all drug discovery infrastructure (including labs, lab supply, access to assays at all research sites, and access to compound collections), and access to advanced testing capabilities.
In addition, Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany is involved in other R&D collaborations on neglected tropical diseases. These include a research project on schistosomiasis and malaria with the Swiss TPH and a collaboration with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (). Via the WHO parasite testing network, Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany has entered into a collaboration with the Theodor Bilharz Research Institute in Egypt. Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany is also participating in stakeholder dialogues and discussions with the African Network for Drugs and Diagnostics Innovation (). Using ANDI as the interface, we are actively exploring new research activities and knowledge transfer to develop new treatments for diseases in developing countries.
Furthermore, we are currently conducting adaptive R&D for our Guava system for HIV diagnostics. In the dialogue with national research institutes and universities in Africa, we are discussing potential types of collaboration in order to better address local needs as well as build scientific expertise.