Project Details A survey of research into new drugs for neglected diseases in Latin America

Project No.:
Start Date:
01 December 2009
End Date:
31 January 2017
Division Name:
Chemistry and Human Health Division
Division No.:


To raise awareness of neglected diseases in Latin America and encourage researchers to select them as subjects for new drug discovery.


In Latin America and the Caribbean regions at least 210 million people live below the poverty line. This is approximately 40% of the population. These impoverished and marginalized populations are heavily burdened with neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). While many of the NTDs do not directly cause high rates of morbidity, they contribute to an enormous rate of morbidity and a drastic reduction in income for the most poverty-stricken families and communities [ref. 1].

Based on their prevalence and healthy life years lost from disability, hookworm infection, other soil-transmitted helminth infections, and Chagas disease are the most important NTDs in Latin America and the Caribbean, followed by dengue, schistosomiasis, leishmaniasis, trachoma, leprosy, and lymphatic filariasis [ref. 2].

The solutions to this situation do not just depend on having appropriate drugs but are complex and involve public health, disease control, education and the political will. Even so, having appropriate drugs would be very helpful. There are some drug programmes. For example, Novartis has established the Novartis Institute for Tropical Diseases in Singapore which is focused especially in the areas of dengue fever, tuberculosis and malaria. Another example is the Institute for One World Health, which is a non profit pharmaceutical company founded in 2000 to develop safe, effective and affordable new medicines to treat infectious diseases in the developing countries; it is especially supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Two drugs were under development [ref. 3] to treat Chagas disease in Latin America. These were K777, a cysteine protease inhibitor from Celera Genomics, and a series of sterol biosynthesis inhibitors licensed from Yale University and the University of Washington. The compound K777, however, was hepatotoxic and its development was abandoned. The Yale/Washington compounds were also abandoned.

Our project aims to identify chemistry researchers and testing laboratories, and their equipment and facilities, in Latin America who are currently working to discover new drugs to treat NTDs. The project chair, Professor Antonio Monge (CIFA (Centre for Investigation in Applied Pharmacobiology), University of Navarra, Pamplona, Spain), has many contacts in Latin America and visits the sub-continent several times each year. He is very well placed to lead this effort. There is also a website that has been set up for Neglected Diseases (Enfermedades Olvidados), sponsored by the Spanish Academy of Pharmacy (Real Academia Nacional de Farmacia de Espana), in collaboration with all the Latin American Academies of Pharmacy, (and in english:

The next stage would be to stimulate other medicinal chemists in Latin America to also conduct research in this area, and to make contacts between them and the testing laboratories. Thus, we would be promoting self help. By creating such a network of researchers it should also be possible to tap into some of the philanthropic funding available.
Candidate drugs for possible development could be offered to local pharmaceutical laboratories or one might seek the assistance of the Institute for One World Health (vide supra).

If the project succeeds it would serve as a model to grow similar efforts in other areas of the world [ref. 4] e.g. India and Southeast Asia.

1. J.C. Holveck et al, BioMed Central Public Health, 2007, 7 (6), doi:10.1186/1471-2458-7-6
2. P.J. Hotez et al, Public Library of Science, Neglected Tropical Diseases, 2008, 2 (9)e300
4. (August 2009)


> project announcement published in Chem. Int. March-Apr 2010

May 2013 – A feature article titled “Neglected Tropical Diseases in Latin America“, co-authored by Antonia Monge and Robin Ganellin, is published in Chem Int May-June 2013, pp 2-5. A table supplement is also available online, listing the various point of contacts in Latin America.

Last updated 24 Sep 2013