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Saint Louis U scientists partner on malaria research

ST. LOUIS -- The Center for World Health & Medicine at Saint Louis University and China's Guangzhou Institutes of Biomedicine and Health (GIBH) are forming a global research partnership that initially will focus on new treatments for malaria.

The organizations are not only connected by a shared commitment to fight a devastating disease, but their key leaders are former Pfizer Inc. drug discovery scientists who formerly worked together in Chesterfield, Mo.

GIBH is part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, a premier government scientific research organization in China, which is similar to the U.S. National Science Foundation. Its chief technology officer and vice president of research, Micky Tortorella, has held the position for more than a year after leaving Pfizer.

The Center for World Health & Medicine began with a dozen scientists at Saint Louis University in July, with a goal of turning basic science research into drugs that combat diseases and medical problems that largely afflict the developing world.

"This is the first step in setting up an international network of collaboration fueled by scientists with expertise in drug discovery. This alliance gives us a global expertise, and provides a real opportunity to succeed, in terms of developing safe, effective and affordable new drugs," said Peter Ruminski, executive director of the Center for World Health & Medicine.

"Malaria is becoming increasingly resistant to current treatments. We need new classes of drugs to attack this deadly disease, which kills between one and three million people a year. We think it is important for there to be multiple therapeutic options for treating malaria, as there are for HIV or for bacterial infections, and this partnership will add significantly to efforts aimed at achieving that goal."

Tortorella said there is a real need for novel approaches to treat malaria, which is a devastating problem in China and in other parts of the developing world, including Africa.

"Every year there are between 300 and 500 million cases of malaria, primarily in the developing world, making it a global priority that currently is not being met. This is an international partnership between China and the United States, working on an international goal. Biologists and medicinal chemists from both of our organizations will work together," Tortorella said.

Considered a disease of poverty, malaria is spread by mosquitoes in tropical and subtropical regions.

"Diseases of poverty that are prevalent in the developing world, have enormous health and socio-economic consequences," Ruminski said.

"What we're doing here trying to find safe, effective and affordable new drugs fits into the mission of Saint Louis University. We're helping those who are under-served. We want to make sure that everyone, regardless of whether they are rich or poor, has access to the newest drugs."

Tortorella looks forward to what could come from the collaboration with former colleagues.

"We started together and it's come full circle. We're now working together again, this time as part of an international partnership between China and the United States, working on an international goal. We're taking advantage of each other's expertise as we work together," Tortorella said. "I see us as pioneers."

Raymond Tait, Ph.D., vice president for research at Saint Louis University, echoed the pioneering sentiment.

"We have believed from the outset that the Center would forge innovative relationships as our scientists pursue new treatments for global diseases. I am delighted at the GIBH partnership and hope that it is the first of many such partnerships that the Center will form."


Contact: Nancy Solomon
Saint Louis University

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