By Mary Hearty

In a bid to save more lives and improve the health of people living with Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) in Africa, the Drugs for Neglected Tropical Diseases initiative (DNDi) intends to deliver 15 new, affordable treatments and expand access for neglected patients by 2028.

Dr Monique Wasunna, Director of DNDi Africa Regional Office revealed this plan during DNDi’s virtual discussion dubbed: Innovation for NTDs in the Next Decade: The Critical Role of African Leadership, and the launch of the new Eight-Year Strategic Plan (2021-2028).

She said: “We are planning to deliver an additional 15 to 18 new treatments and expand access for neglected patients by addressing research and development gaps for NTDs and viral diseases, including pandemic-prone and climate-sensitive diseases in our first 25 years of existence.”

In the last 18 years, DNDi has delivered nine treatments saving millions of life, and is now working on drug candidates for eight deadly diseases found in Africa including sleeping sickness, leishmaniasis, filaria or river blindness, mycetoma, COVID-19 pandemic-prone diseases as well as pediatric HIV infection.

“Since 2007 to date, the treatments that have so far been delivered by DNDi include:  ASAQ, which is a new combination to simplify malaria treatment (2007), ASMQ for malaria used in Africa and Asia (2008), NECT for sleeping sickness (2009) SSG+PM Visceral leishmaniasis in East Africa (2010), Paediatric benznidazole which is easier and safer treatment for children with Chagas disease (2011), New VL treatment in Asia for supporting disease elimination (2011), Superbooster therapy a more effective treatment for children with HIV who also have TB (2016) and Fexinidazole: a paradigm shift for sleeping sickness(2018),” Dr Wasunna mentioned in a previous media briefing with Africa Science Media Centre (AfriSMC).

Again, during the virtual discussion, she revealed that 20 clinical trials are conducted at the moment, with 12 being in Africa; and they also aim to identify eight to ten new drug candidates by 2028.

Besides, following a consultative process, they have selected three new areas for further investigation. These include snakebite, dengue fever, and chassis myiasis.

She called for the need to advocate for change and public policies that will enable a more effective and equitable research and development system that will deliver innovation and access to treatments for neglected patients.

Dr Wasunna stated that about one billion people are affected by NTDs worldwide and 40% of them are in Africa. Approximately 500 million of those affected are children, while at least one in eight people suffer from one of the neglected diseases.

Therefore, she said that it is important that children and other vulnerable populations are included in research and development portfolio. She also emphasized on the need to adapt with time as new technologies are coming up including artificial intelligence, nanotechnology to support innovation of new tools for neglected patients.