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First vaccine against fatal visceral leishmaniasis enters clinical trial

Seattle, WA | February 22, 2012 -- The first clinical trial of a new vaccine for visceral leishmaniasis (VL) has been launched by the Infectious Disease Research Institute (IDRI), a Seattle-based nonprofit that develops products to prevent, detect, and treat diseases of poverty. The Phase 1 trial is taking place in Washington State, with a companion Phase 1 trial planned in India, an epicenter of the disease.

Visceral leishmaniasis affects vital organs and bone marrow, destroying white and red blood cells. Because VL attacks the immune system, it has been called the parasitic version of HIV/AIDS.

"Visceral leishmaniasis is a persistent and deadly global health problem," said Steve Reed, IDRI founder and Chief Scientific Officer, who led the over twenty years of preclinical vaccine work. "Our partnership with India will speed the development of an effective vaccine and accelerate its control.

Leishmaniasis takes several forms, all of which are caused by the Leishmania parasite and transmitted by infected sand flies. VL is most common in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sudan, and Brazil and causes about 500,000 cases and 50,000 deaths each year. Cutaneous leishmaniasis, the most common form of the disease, causes serious skin lesions and often leaves its victims permanently disfigured. Leishmaniasis occurs in 88 countries, affecting 12 million people.

While the disease can be treated, current treatments are too expensive, difficult to administer, or toxic for widespread use in poor countries. Drug resistance is also a growing problem, particularly in India. Left untreated, VL has a 90% case fatality, and death can come within two yearsmuch more quickly than AIDS.

Furthermore, scientists warn that the geographical range for leishmaniasis is expanding. Spurred on by global warming, mass migration and rapid urbanization, cases are being reported in previously unaffected areas.

Given such challenges, a vacci

Contact: Erik Iverson
Infectious Disease Research Institute

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