Open access initiatives to catalyse drug discovery

Dr Fabrice Boyom, Researcher, University of Yaoundé, Cameroon

The Open Access Malaria Box contains 400 diverse molecules, representative of the original 20,000 set and active against blood stage Plasmodium falciparum malaria. The box was made available to researchers for free on request. Based on the success of the Malaria Box, MMV was awarded a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for a follow-on project, the Pathogen Box. This box also contains 400 molecules for distribution to scientists for free on request, but this time with activity not just against malaria, but also against one of a range of neglected diseases.1

Dr Fabrice Boyom is investigating natural products for the treatment of human, animal, and/or plant diseases. To help fuel his research he received MMV’s Open Access Malaria Box, a Malaria Box Challenge Grant and recently the Pathogen Box. Dr Boyom explains how he and his team have been using these resources.

1. What was your initial reaction when you heard about the Malaria Box initiative?

Wow! This is a real opportunity to have compounds to work on. As in other poorer countries in the world, the discovery of new drugs for parasitic infections in Cameroon is hampered by the lack of resources devoted to drug discovery. It is not easy to purify effective compounds from plants. It’s a long and demanding process. The Malaria Box provided a wonderful opportunity to research compounds that you know work.

2. How are you using the compounds?

What did your research reveal? The compounds are being screened against Toxoplasma gondii and Entamoeba histolytica, but also against pathogenic yeasts and bacteria. As a result, we identified seven anti-Toxoplasma gondii hits, as well as two moderately active compounds against E. histolytica. Also, two compounds showed highly potent activity against various Candida spp. and Cryptococcus neoformans (one of which is the already known Crystal violet). We are now optimizing two of the compounds.

3. You have also recently requested the Pathogen Box. How will you use the compounds?

The Pathogen Box is another great opportunity to expand our research and continue the work we are doing. We will also screen the compounds against Mycobacterium ulcerans (the causative agent of Buruli ulcer) and eventually against pathogenic yeasts such as Cryptococcus neoformans.
It’s exciting to be involved in science to save lives. Through these open access initiatives and grants, we have not only been able to continue our research but I have also been able to train my students, who can then continue the work in Africa. I’m very grateful for the guidance from MMV and I’m looking forward to continuing this work in the future.

1Ascariasis, Buruli ulcer, Chagas disease, Cryptosporidiosis, Hookworm, Human African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness), Visceral & cutaneous leishmaniasis, Lymphatic filariasis, Malaria, Onchocerciasis (river blindness), Schistosomiasis, Trichuriasis and Tuberculosis.