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Compound might defeat African sleeping sickness, clinical trial beginning this month

One of the most devastating diseases in sub-Saharan Africa almost disappeared in the late 1950s. That disease, African sleeping sickness, or trypanosomiasis, largely succumbed to heroic public health efforts -- including relocating entire villages. But in the past several decades, because of post-colonial turmoil, the catastrophic illness has come back to ravage parts of Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Sudan and other countries. In some regions, the tsetse fly-borne infection rivals or exceeds the toll AIDS takes.

Trypanosomiasis is passed from human to human by tsetse fly bites. It produces fever, lymph nodes inflammation, eventual impairment of the brain and nervous system in its late stage and, if not treated, death. The World Health Organization has estimated that more then 300,000 people are infected, and more than 60 million living in the region are at risk.

Now, real hope for a better treatment is on the horizon, based on research conducted in part at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In Phase II clinical trials, a new oral drug, DB289, demonstrated safety and high effectiveness in subjects with the early stage of sleeping sickness. Scientists are launching a Phase III trial this summer involving for the first time hundreds of patients who will be treated with the drug.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is supporting the work, which is being led by Dr. Richard R. Tidwell, professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the UNC School of Medicine.

"This is very exciting time for us and the international consortium we pulled together to develop the first drug made to specifically combat this terrible re-emerging disease," Tidwell said. "The compound DB289 will be the first new drug for early stage (blood stage) African sleeping sickness in 50 years, and the only oral drug that's ever been specifically developed for it."

Oral administration is important for treating the disease which
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Source:University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


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