German firm 4SC AG is part of a European consortium that has secured EUR1.3 million funding from the European Union to develop anti-adhesive drugs for treatment of severe complications of malaria.
4SC, of Martinsried, will be responsible for identifying lead structures that act on targets identified by the research partners, CEO Ulrich Dauer told BioWorld International. The project, coordinated by Michael Lanzer at the Institute of Hygiene at the University of Heidelberg, also includes research groups at that university's Centre for Molecular Biology, the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine in the UK, the Pasteur Institute in France, the Karolinska Institute in Sweden and the University of Aix-Marseille, France.
They will search for targets associated with an adhesion process that involves red blood cells infected with the causative agent of malaria, the parasite Plasmodium falciparum. Infected cells bind to small vascular endothelial cells in the human host and to other, uninfected red cells, leading to blood vessel blockage and to inflammation and hypoxia (tissue oxygen deprivation). These complications can become life threatening when they occur in organs such as the brain, lungs or kidney.
The project consortium aims to develop a drug that will tackle these complications, without eliminating the actual infection. The target market includes both indigenous populations in regions where the disease remains endemic and travelers. "We believe all in all a new malaria drug could create annual revenues of approximately US$200 million," Dauer said.
The disease occurs in 90 countries and causes between 1.7 million and 3 million deaths annually. Approximately 300 million to 500 million people are currently infected. Efforts to develop working vaccines have been unsuccessful, Dauer said. Moreover, he added, the fact that natural resistance to the disease has not developed would further rule out this type of approach. "We really doubt that a vaccine strategy would be the right one for malaria," he said.
4SC has a more advanced, in-house anti-malarial program, involving an undisclosed target, which is about to enter preclinical development. An additional project is focusing on both malaria and the parasitic disease toxoplasmosis, while a third concerns Coccidia infection, which occurs on chicken farms. The company also has development programs in asthma and stroke that involve the same class of targets as that associated with its work in parasitic diseases.
4SC, which was spun off last year from the Institute of Organic Chemistry at the University of W|rzburg in Germany, is hoping to close off a EUR16 million (US$13.4 million) second funding round by the end of November. It raised DM5.4 million (US$2.3 million) in its first round.