Many infectious diseases endemic to developing countries are barely known in industrialized nations. Referred to as neglected tropical diseases, these infections consequently attract little public attention and research funding. One poignant example is schistosomiasis, an insidious parasitic disease that still lacks a treatment suitable for children under six. Malaria, too, continues to pose a threat to public health. According to estimates by WHO, nearly half of the world’s population is at risk of malaria. Although a large range of approved products and investigational compounds are available to treat malaria, the number of resistant pathogens is on the rise. New treatments and health solutions are therefore urgently needed. Bacterial infections and antimicrobial resistance also pose global challenges that are becoming increasingly acute. Urgent action is needed to prevent and control these issues.
Our approach to preventing and treating infectious diseases
We seek to improve healthcare in developing countries by creating novel and integrated health solutions for infectious diseases and ensuring the sustainable implementation of these innovations. Our Group-wide initiatives and programs particularly address the key unmet medical needs of women and children, with a focus on schistosomiasis, malaria, bacterial infections, and antimicrobial resistance. Here, our integrated strategy is centered not only on developing and providing medicines, but also on improving diagnosis, countering disease transmission, and disease control, as well as strengthening local health systems.
Our comprehensive global health portfolio includes programs for the following:
- Development of a pediatric formulation to treat schistosomiasis
- Development of a new active ingredient to treat and prevent malaria in children
- Screening of our compound library in search of potential new active ingredients to treat schistosomiasis and malaria
- Development of diagnostic kits for schistosomiasis and malaria
- Development of products and technologies to enhance prevention
Our efforts to address bacterial infections and antimicrobial resistance concentrate on
- developing assets for antibiotic quality and laboratory capacity to detect antimicrobial resistance,
- improving the use of antibiotics by healthcare providers and patients,
- helping define industry-wide guidelines for the control of antibiotics.
Beyond these efforts, we also sponsor capacity building educational programs and initiatives to enhance research capability and infrastructure in African countries.
How we structure our activities to fight infectious diseases
Our Global Health Institute is responsible for our Group-wide initiatives, programs and sponsorships pertaining to infectious diseases. Our experts there collaborate closely with our Healthcare, Life Science and Performance Materials business sectors to synergize their strengths and competencies. For instance, the internal collaboration with Performance Materials aims at introducing the malaria claim for our insect repellent IR3535®.
We also cultivate partnerships with leading global health institutions and organizations in both developed and developing countries. Take for instance the Pediatric Praziquantel Consortium, a public-private partnership that is working to develop pediatric formulations to treat schistosomiasis in children under six.
Our commitment: Guidelines and voluntary commitments
Our programs and initiatives to fight infectious diseases are part of our efforts to improve access to health. Our Infectious Diseases Research and Development guideline is particularly relevant here.
Our Global Health Institute acts in alignment with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In particular, the Institute’s initiatives and programs aim to address SDGs 3, 4, 6, 9, and 17.
We were among the first organizations to endorse the London Declaration when it was launched in 2012 to fight neglected tropical diseases. Participating companies, governments and private organizations promise to help control or even eliminate the top ten most prevalent of these infections. We are particularly engaged in the fight against schistosomiasis.
In 2017 we continued our schistosomiasis research to combat this disease.
Around 10% of the approximately 220 million patients worldwide with schistosomiasis are younger than six years old. These children cannot be treated with praziquantel, the standard therapy for this parasitic disease. While clinical data is lacking, there is also no formulation of this drug suitable for children under six. This is a situation we intend to change. Since July 2012, we have been working within a consortium of partners from industry and science, as well as with funding organizations, to develop a pediatric formulation of praziquantel. In 2016, we initiated a Phase II study in Côte d’Ivoire that aims to assess the efficacy and safety of two different formulations for orodispersible tablets in schistosomiasis-infected children under the age of six. We expect to have the initial results by mid-2018. In 2017 the Japanese Global Health Innovation Technology Fund awarded the consortium an additional research grant in recognition of its efforts, the third time it has received this honor.
Partnering to find new solutions
Since 2017, we've been collaborating with the Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine at James Cook University in Townsville, Queensland, and Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas (USA) to research new biomarkers in order to develop diagnostic tools for schistosomiasis. Also in 2017, we established a drug discovery platform to search for new, long-lasting compounds to treat juvenile forms of schistosomiasis, improve efficacy and prevent reinfections. In addition, through academic collaborations, we aim to research a new genome editing method for vector control to combat schistosomiasis.
Fight against malaria
Malaria control also requires an integrated approach. As a science and technology company, we are well-positioned to help improve the treatment of malaria, as well as to develop and enhance diagnostics and prevention. In our efforts we closely collaborate with a wide range of partners.
Accurately diagnosing malaria
Sometimes malaria is hard to distinguish from other febrile infections. We are developing reliable diagnostics so that antimalarials are only administered to patients who are actually suffering from the disease.
Our Global Health Institute is currently developing a novel malaria detection and typing assay adaptable to the Muse© cytometry platform. It aims to accurately diagnose malaria and measure the type of malaria parasite as well as the infection level. In 2017 the project made progress in the preclinical phase, yielding promising results. We expect to register this new malaria diagnostic kit in 2020.
Enabling the treatment of children
In September 2017 we initiated the Phase I study of our anti-malarial drug program. We have been developing a new, innovative drug for the treatment of malaria since 2015. The new compound is intended to be developed as a single-dose combination treatment to treat and potentially prevent malaria in children. Performed in Australia, the Phase I study in healthy volunteers will allow us to assess the safety of the compound. A malaria human-blood challenge model will allow us to obtain an early read-out of the compound’s antimalarial activity to confirm the potential for a single-dose cure. Phase I and challenge model results are expected in the second quarter of 2018. These activities are being supported by the Wellcome Trust, a biomedical research charity based in London.
Developing new lead programs
Initiated in 2015, our strategic collaboration with the University of Cape Town in South Africa has led to the development of a new research and development platform. It leverages our proprietary compound library to identify new lead programs for the treatment of malaria, targeting liver-stage forms and long-lasting compounds to improve post treatment prophylaxis. In a separate collaboration, we are in the process of developing a new cell model of liver-stage malaria infection.
Preventing and controlling transmission
To help prevent malaria from spreading, we are working to improve access to insect repellent as a vector control method. Through internal and external collaborations, we are working towards demonstrating the efficacy of IR3535® against malaria in Africa in a bid to foster the malaria claim for this insect repellent. IR3535® is already being utilized to help prevent the spread of the Zika virus and Dengue fever, and is particularly suitable for children and pregnant women.
Dialogue and best practice sharing on infectious diseases
In 2017 the experts of our Global Health Institute continued to engage major stakeholders in a dialogue on infectious diseases, attending and holding meetings at around 30 international conferences and events, including:
- The Keystone Symposia conference on Malaria, held in Kampala, Uganda in February 2017
- The International Society for Neglected Tropical Diseases (ISNTD) Festival, held in London, United Kingdom in February 2017, where we received the ISNTD Award for Scientific Engagement
- The Towards Elimination of Schistosomiasis (TES) Conference, held in Yaoundé, Cameroon in March 2017
- The NTD Summit 2017, held in Geneva, Switzerland in April 2017. In the context of this event, Belén Garijo, Executive Board member and CEO Healthcare, represented our company at the fifth anniversary of the London Declaration. We also announced the Global Health Institute at this event.
- The Sixth International Conference on Vivax Research (ICPVR) in Manaus, Brazil in June 2017
- The World Health Summit in Berlin, Germany in October 2017
- The European and American Congresses on Tropical Medicine and International Health (ECTMIH & ASTMH), held in Antwerp, Belgium in October 2017 and in Baltimore, Maryland (USA) in November 2017
In 2017, our Global Health Institute furthermore joined advocacy initiatives such as the Worldwide Malaria Campaign and became a member of key stakeholder groups including the Swiss NTD Alliance and the Swiss Malaria Group.
Building capacities in the health industry
Under our integrated approach to fighting infectious diseases, we have continued to enhance health capacities in and for the developing world.
We sponsor three PhD fellowships as part of a partnership launched in 2015 with the University of Namibia. In support of governmental malaria control programs, these scientists are studying the extensive spread of malaria pathogens in Namibia, Botswana and Zambia, and are also working to characterize parasite subtypes that occur in the populations in these African countries.
In addition to doctoral fellowships, we also co-sponsor several international fellowship programs for postdoctoral researchers from developing and emerging countries via our collaboration with the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP). As well as receiving training on clinical aspects such as clinical trial practices and clinical management, these research fellows are also given the opportunity to work for a period of up to 24 months at leading pharmaceutical enterprises, including our company. On returning to their home countries and academic institutions, they then have the key resources needed implement their research in line with international regulatory requirements and standards.
In 2017 our Global Health Institute provided the support needed to expand research infrastructure in several countries. For instance, we have been sponsoring a newly established gynecology ward in the District Hospital of Akonolinga, Cameroon, along with a clinical center in Côte d’Ivoire, where we’re also conducting the Pediatric Praziquantel Program’s Phase II study on the treatment of schistosomiasis in very young children.