MMV contributes to the fight against schistosomiasis

The parasitic disease is second only to malaria in terms of impact

30 Sep 2019

Using compounds made available through MMV, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and Salvensis (a not-for-profit organization) have identified new promising compounds for the treatment and prevention of schistosomiasis, which have now been handed to Merck for further development.

Schistosomiasis is a neglected tropical disease second only to malaria in terms of its impact. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), schistosomiasis affects almost 240 million people worldwide, and more than 700 million people live in endemic areas. Several million people suffer from severe health problems caused by schistosomiasis – particularly gastrointestinal and urinary. Currently, only one medicine (praziquantel) is available to treat the infection caused by the species of schistosomes that infect humans. New medicines are therefore urgently needed.

Schistosomiasis and malaria can occur in the same patient, meaning that many of the deaths due to schistosomiasis are linked to malaria infection – and vice versa. Furthermore, children are particularly vulnerable to both diseases.

In 2013, MMV donated one of its large compound libraries to the LSHTM, as part of MMV Open. After screening 250,000 compounds, seven ‘hits’ were identified with anti-schistosomal activity. The UK’s Medical Research Council (MRC) awarded the LSHTM a 3-year grant – worth £1.5 million1 – for the screening work and to progress the hits.

Dr Timothy Wells, MMV’s Chief Scientific Officer and Prof. Paul Fish, a member of MMV’s Expert Scientific Advisory Committee, provided ongoing support and advice throughout the project, and MMV’s discovery team funded the synthesis of the final molecules for further testing. Salvensis and LSHTM’s assets have now been handed over to Merck to progress them towards a potential investigational new drug. 

“This is the first new compound that meets a late leadcriteria for schistosomiasis in several decades”, explained Dr Timothy Wells. “If the compound can be successfully developed into a new drug for schistosomiasis, the impact on this neglected tropical disease would be huge.”

This project is dedicated to the memory of Dr Tanya Parkinson, MMV’s former drug discovery partner at Pfizer, who originally led this discovery collaboration, and sadly lost her life to cancer in 2017.

Read Merck’s press release


1. The grant covers 80% of the costs.

2. A late lead is a compound that based on its physicochemical properties, potency, efficacy and toxicity has a high probability of becoming a preclinical candidate in the subsequent 6-9 months.