One compound could treat three parasitic diseases

Scientists have identified a compound that can kill the parasites responsible for three neglected diseases: Chagas disease, leishmaniasis and sleeping sickness.

Several small, seed-shaped parasites spread out against a black background.

Credit: University of Oxford, Richard Wheeler, Wellcome Images

Leishmania mexicana, one of the parasite species that cause leishmaniasis.

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.

Find out more about the work in our press release.