Innovative medicinal chemistry solutions to global healthcare problems

9 Dec 2013

Annually, over 2 million people die from malaria, TB and kinetoplastid diseases; the majority of these deaths are in the developing world. 

Healthcare in the developing world presents specific challenges due, at least in part, to the prevailing geographic and economic conditions in these regions. Poverty means that few people have access to treatments that are readily available and affordable in the developed world. Vaccination programmes are challenging due to infrastructure problems and often a general lack of awareness, whilst hygiene practices we take for granted, such as access to clean water, antibacterial agents and other staples, can be difficult to maintain. The hot and often humid climates typical of much of the developing world are ideal breeding grounds for diseases such as malaria, African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness), American trypanosomiasis (Chagas disease) and leishmaniasis as the vector species that spread these diseases thrive under these conditions.

More specific challenges exist for some of the most prevalent diseases. For example, resistance to current malarial drugs is a huge problem, as is maintaining the 'cold-chain' for vaccinations. Compounding the issue is the need to administer treatments which require repeat dosing, which is a particular complication in countries where there is a poor healthcare infrastructure. Current treatments for TB typically involve taking antibiotics over time periods of at least a few months. Such a long treatment time leads to high rates of patient non-compliance, intensifying the issue of drug resistance. Non-compliance itself is further exacerbated by the fact that some drug treatments are very bulky medicines. Current treatments for TB typically require the patient to take a cocktail of drugs, all of which can have toxic side-effects, especially relating to liver function. Vaccinations for kinetoplastid diseases are currently unavailable, and drug treatments are scarce and not particularly effective.

One of the greatest challenges for the pharmaceutical sector in tackling these global healthcare problems is therefore to create new medicines, specifically designed to meet these demanding criteria. 'Towards new therapeutics for the diseases of the developing world' is an SCI event which will cover some of the latest developments in three main disease areas – malaria, TB and kinetoplastid diseases.

Novel screening techniques will be explored, including innovative collaborative and cross-disciplinary approaches. Medicinal chemistry advances in the design and synthesis of drugs with novel modes of action will also be a focus. As well as highlighting the cutting edge in medicinal chemistry, talks with a historical perspective will inform on previous drug discovery and place modern advances in context.

The meeting will be of interest to anyone working towards treating these global health challenges and other neglected diseases in the field of medicinal chemistry, whether within industry or academia. There is already a strong emphasis on collaborative practices and open drug discovery initiatives when addressing diseases of the developing world, and it is hoped that this conference will enable new partnerships to be forged.

This three-day event is organised by SCI's Fine Chemicals Group, and is sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline, MedChemica, TB Alliance, Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative, Medicines for Malaria Venture, and the European Federation for Medicinal Chemistry.

The meeting will take place from Sunday 11 - Tuesday 13 May 2014 at GlaxoSmithKline's Tres Cantos site in Madrid. Spain's capital city boasts not only beautiful architecture, museums, and art galleries, but also some of the finest shopping and nightlife in the world. Tres Cantos is an easily accessible location, being an hour's train ride from Madrid airport and only half an hour from the city centre.

Dr Susan Brittain

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