These diseases affect millions of people in Latin America, Asia and Africa, but there aren't many effective treatments available.
Wellcome-funded researchers have found a chemical that can cure all three diseases in mice, suggesting that a single class of drugs could be effective against all of them. The compound didn't harm human cells in laboratory tests, which is a strong starting point for drug development.
Chagas, leishmaniasis and sleeping sickness have different symptoms but all are caused by a type of parasite called 'kinetoplastids'. After testing more than 3 million different chemicals, scientists identified a compound – GNF6702 – that was effective against all three.
"These parasites harbour a common weakness," said study lead Frantisek Supek from the Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation. "We hope to exploit this weakness to discover and develop a single class of drugs for all three diseases."
The fact that GNF6702 doesn't seem to have adverse effects in mice suggests that it might have fewer side-effects than existing drugs, although this needs to be explored in human studies.