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Merck, DNDi announce collaboration on neglected tropical diseases


NAIROBI, Kenya Few Americans probably have heard of visceral leishmaniasis or Chagas disease, but these and other illnesses are among the neglected tropical diseases that affect millions of people and can cause life-threatening complications.

For example, Chagas disease, a protozoan-borne illness spread by the blood-sucking kissing bug, so-called because it often feeds near people’s mouths while they sleep, causes damage to the heart that requires successive heart transplants throughout the patient’s lifetime. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 8 and 11 million people in Central and South America are living with Chagas disease. Visceral leishmaniasis is a parasitic disease that infects about 500,000 people each year, causing flu-like symptoms, enlargement of the spleen and liver and anemia.

But an American drug company and a nonprofit group will collaborate to combat these illnesses. Merck & Co. announced Monday that it would partner with the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative to discover and develop treatments for the diseases, which often lack adequate treatments.

Under the terms of the agreement, Merck will contribute pharmaceutical drugs and related intellectual property via a nonexclusive, royalty-free license to DNDi to conduct early development programs for drug candidates to treat such illnesses as visceral leishmaniasis and Chagas disease. Merck and DNDi will share intellectual property on drug candidates generated through early development, and Merck will have the option of continuing clinical development and filing for regulatory approval at its own expense or as part of the partnership.

“We are excited by this collaboration, as it represents the kind of sustainable, long-term commitment that helps us to address critical gaps in drug development for neglected diseases,” DNDi research and development director Shing Chang stated.

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