£2.5 M joint initiative between the University of Edinburgh and Selcia to develop new drugs to target sleeping sickness

Scientists from Edinburgh Infectious Diseases and the life science research organisation Selcia are beginning a £2.5 million project to design novel treatments for sleeping sickness (also known as Human African Trypanosomiasis).  

Sleeping sickness is a devastating tropical disease that threatens almost 70 million people in Africa. It is spread by the bite of the tsetse fly, and can damage the nervous system, causing coma, organ failure and death. Existing medicines for the disease can cause debilitating side-effects or can be fatal. Some drugs must be administered using a drip, which makes treatment time-consuming and expensive. Researchers hope to develop safe, effective medicines that can be given easily.

The quest for new treatments will build on previous studies about how the infection occurs. Scientists have shown that the parasite is able to survive in the bloodstream by using enzymes to convert blood sugars into the energy it needs to stay alive. They have identified potential drug-like compounds that can stop two of these enzymes from functioning, so killing the parasite. 

Scientists from the University of Edinburgh, working with the international life sciences contract research organisation Selcia, will design and develop drugs based on these drug-like compounds. 

Their aim is to design a drug that will be effective in small doses, and will work even on advanced infections. The 30-month project, funded by the Wellcome Trust, will seek to test the compounds in the lab and in mice, ahead of further studies that could involve human trials.

New treatments could be developed into veterinary medicines for infections caused by the same parasite in livestock, which cost farmers about US$2 billion a year.

Professor Malcolm Walkinshaw, of the University of Edinburgh's School of Biological Sciences, said:

Sleeping sickness is a widespread, neglected disease which, if left untreated, is invariably fatal and drugs are poorly effective. We hope to develop new forms of treatment that can be easily administered and will eventually help curb the disease's impact."

Dr Hans Fliri, Chairman and CEO of Selcia, said:

We are delighted to collaborate with the University of Edinburgh's School of Biological Sciences. Selcia has made no secret of its determination to develop strong links with academic research teams. We see these partnerships as a key strategic element of our growing integrated drug discovery offer."


For further information, please contact: 

About Selcia:

  • Selcia Limited is a privately held contract research organisation with two operating divisions, Selcia Discovery which provides integrated small molecule drug discovery services to the global life science industry; these services include in vitro biology, screening, fragment screening, medicinal, organic and analytical chemistry, and in vitro ADME/PK evaluation as well as in vivo PK (with a strategic partner) and Selcia Radiolabelling which specialises in 14C GMP radiolabelling.
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