Neglected tropical disease project from i3S 1st Portuguese selected by European Lead Factory

04 October 2016

The Parasite Disease Group, incorporated in the Institute for Research and Innovation in Health (i3S) and the Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Porto, is now joining the European research elite, as the first Portuguese team to introduce a project into the European Lead Factory (ELF). The group identified an enzyme, essential to the survival and virulence of the Leishmania parasite, and it has just been selected by ELF to be screened by the consortium.

Leishmania parasites cause leishmaniasis, a neglected tropical disease found in parts of tropics, subtropics and Southern Europe. The infection is transmitted through the bite of infected phlebotomine sand flies. Among the several forms of leishmaniasis, visceral leishmaniasis is the most severe form of the disease, which is fatal when left untreated. At the moment, there is no approved human vaccine and disease control relies mostly on chemotherapy, which is frequently linked to safety issues, drug resistance, among other issues, hindering disease eradication in endemic areas. Coming up with new chemotherapeutic options is, therefore, of utmost importance.

“We are very excited that the European Lead Factory is dedicating resources to our research programme. We expect to find, with this project, new and effective drugs that, by inhibiting a specific target enzyme, may provide a successful treatment for leishmaniasis”, Anabela Cordeiro-da-Silva, principal investigator at i3S, explains. The work that will be done by ELF is sure to play a pivotal role in this process.

Joana Tavares, research associate at the Parasite Disease Group, for her part, agrees “this is an invaluable opportunity to apply the achievements of fundamental research and contribute to novel treatment options for leishmaniasis.”

It is also worth stressing the highly collaborative nature of this project: prior to the proposal submission to ELF, the group had already been working in close proximity with the BioSciences Screening Unit at i3S, thus laying the groundwork for the project’s admission in ELF.

Photo from left to right: Joana Tavares, Professor Anabela Cordeiro da Silva and André Maia (in charge of the BioSciences Screening Unit).