News Feature | December 15, 2014

Bayer, DNDi To Develop Drug For Human River Blindness

By Estel Grace Masangkay

German pharma firm Bayer announced that it has signed an agreement with Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi) to develop the company’s emodepside as a new oral treatment for river blindness, also known as onchocerciasis.

Emodepside was originally discovered by Japanese firm Astellas. It was further developed by Bayer initially for animal health uses. The company decided that the compound warranted clinical development for human use as it has shown efficacy in killing the culprit adult parasite in relevant animal models of human river blindness. As a new “macrofilaricidal” drug, emodepside presents several benefits over current “microfilaricidal” therapies, which target only young worms. Treatment with emodepside could potentially reduce the period of current treatments, which are based on mass drug administration (MDA) rounds that can last up to 17 years. The new drug could also be used in areas where microfilaricidal therapy is limited due to the patients’ co-infection with African eye worm. These patients have very high levels of young parasitic worms in their blood and are at risk from serious adverse reactions, including brain damage, when treated with standard therapy that kills a massive number of juvenile African eye worms.

Under the terms of the agreement, Bayer will supply the active ingredient for the drug and will be responsible for the pharmaceutical development, manufacturing, and registration of the treatment. DNDi will take lead in the preclinical and clinical development of the drug. The partners agreed to make the treatment available at the lowest sustainable cost to ensure affordability and access.

Dr. Bernard Pécoul, executive director of DND, said, “Through our collaboration with Bayer on the development of emodepside, we hope to bring a new, safe, short-course, field-adapted treatment to patients and offer a new public health approach for countries long affected by this disease.”

Dr. Olivier Brandicourt, Chairman of the Board of Management of Bayer HealthCare, said, “We are looking forward to joining DNDi in its mission to develop better and adapted treatments for patients with neglected diseases.”

River blindness is caused by the bite of the blackfly vector and the invasion of the adult parasitic worm, which can live for up to 15 years inside the human body. The female adults produce millions of microfilariae, which cause serious visual impairment, including blindness. The parasites also cause lesions, intense itching, and skin depigmentation. The disease affects more than 25 million people around the world, a majority of which are living in Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and the Americas.