Stimulating research into neglected and pandemic diseases

Dr Kirandeep Samby, Medicinal Chemist, MMV Consultant

Since the turn of the 21st century, the world has battled multiple epidemics – both old and new, viral and bacterial. Some of these have reached pandemic proportions. The Zika virus outbreak across the Americas in 2015–2016, for example, demonstrated how quickly a relatively unknown mosquito-borne disease can become a global health emergency.

The latest open-source library to be made available is the Pandemic Response Box, launched by MMV and the Drugs for Neglected Disease initiative in January 2019. We spoke to Kirandeep Samby, a medicinal chemist and MMV consultant working on MMV Open activities, to find out more about this latest initiative.

1. What is the Pandemic Response Box?

The Pandemic Response Box is a new library of 400 diverse compounds with antibacterial, antiviral or antifungal activity. It is freely available to members of the scientific community upon request. In return, researchers are required to publish any findings in an open-access journal within 2 years of data generation.

2. What types of compounds are included? How were these selected?

Anti-infective compounds included in the box are in various phases of discovery or development. Initially, we took around 20,000 compounds that were reported in the public domain and had relevant biological activity. These were triaged using computational techniques to provide a selection of compounds with a range of molecular properties, chemical scaffolds, target pathogens and biological mechanisms of action. Around 2,300 compounds were then shortlisted from this triage. Lastly, a group of external disease experts assessed each of the 2,300 compounds individually and selected the final set of 201 antibacterial, 153 antiviral and 46 antifungal compounds.

3. What is the value of open-source libraries such as the Pandemic Response Box?

In the field of neglected tropical diseases, initiatives like the Pandemic Response Box are vital. Such libraries give scientists the tools to explore and validate new targets, which in turn leads to new scientific discoveries and new drug discovery projects. The overarching goal of the project is to help shorten the time between a new pandemic emerging and new drugs becoming available to treat it, because as we know from experience, saving time saves lives.

4. How many orders do you expect to receive?

Based on our experience with the Malaria Box and Pathogen Box to date, we expect to receive orders for around 200–300 boxes. However, it will probably take 2–3 years to reach this number.

5. What has it been like working with MMV?

It’s been a wonderful experience. MMV is a very open organization to work with and is always receptive to feedback from its partners. I believe the work they do is extremely important in safeguarding our society from future threats to global health.