The Pathogen Box - open and collaborative research is the way forward

2017
Dr Fidelis Cho-Ngwa University of Buea, Cameroon, Pathogen Box and challenge grant recipient

As part of its ongoing efforts to support the scientists of tomorrow to reach their potential, MMV has awarded seven Challenge Grants to endemic-region researchers to exploit the rich drug discovery resource of the Pathogen Box.

Dr Fidelis Cho-Ngwa explains the challenges of his research and how the Pathogen Box and grant are helping to overcome them.

1. What is the main focus of your research?

The focus of my research is to find a cure for onchocerciasis, also known as river blindness. River blindness is a neglected eye and skin disease prevalent in the tropics. It is caused by worms transmitted by flies that breed in fast-flowing streams and rivers and can lead to skin lesions and blindness, hence the name. The current treatment, ivermectin, kills only the juvenile worms and not the adults, which then keep reproducing and so patients must take medicines for up to 15 years to cover the lifespan of the adult worms.

2. What are the biggest challenges you face in this area?

The biggest challenge we face right now is getting our hands on quality compounds for research. We have developed really good assays and animal models at our centre, which is a pan-African centre of excellence for onchocerciasis drug research. We just need the compounds to screen against the worms in the assays and models.

We also don’t have all the relevant expertise to pursue active hits or leads, such as pharmacology, drug metabolism and pharmacokinetics; nor do we have medicinal chemistry and clinical trial expertise and so will eventually need to partner with a pharmaceutical company or other groups.

3. What was your initial reaction when you heard about the Pathogen Box initiative?

We were really excited and eager to get involved and start to use the compounds in our assays and models. For diseases of the poor, like onchocerciasis, open and collaborative research has to be the way forward.

4. How are you using the Pathogen Box compounds and challenge grant?

We have screened all the compounds against the microfilariae of bovine-derived Onchocerca ochengi, the closest relative and best model of the medically important Onchocerca volvulus. We are using the grant for fieldwork to get the parasite from the field sites to the labs for the assays. It also covers the staff costs, local transport, disposables
and reagents.

5. What has your research revealed?

We got a handful of hits that inhibit the viability of the juvenile worms at 100%, which can be moved forward. We are now working to compile the results and share them with MMV to get more of the compounds to screen against the adult worms.