• 20 February 2013
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  • By Mr Zakir Thomas

Finding cures for neglected tropical diseases

Mr Zakir Thomas, project director, Open Source Drug Discovery Initiative, CSIR,feels that unless the government play a proactive role with investments and support the R&D, endemic diseases will continue to debilitate the population


Mr Zakir Thomas is the project director of the Open Source Drug Discovery Initiative in CSIR, New Delhi. He is responsible for overall coordination and implementation of the project. He also heads the director general’s technical cell of CSIR

The lack of appreciable market that attracts the investment of research based pharmaceutical enterprises is the reason for lack of development of new drugs for a number of tropical diseases. The challenging question is how to lead the development of new therapies for the diseases that do not attract private investment. The impact of these diseases is substantial on the affected population. Due to the high mortality rates and the large number of persons affected, particularly in the most vulnerable sections of the society, these diseases need priority attention from a governmental and public policy perspective. The following three diseases are just illustrative examples and India is affected by most of these diseases.

Tuberculosis (TB) is one of the leading cause of deaths due to infectious diseases. TB kills someone somewhere in the world every 25 seconds. About 1000 persons die each day in India, two deaths occur every three minutes. Most of these deaths happen in the less endowed neighbourhoods in the tropical region. The current drugs for TB hail from the middle of 20th century and drug resistance has emerged as a major concern.

Malaria is one of the planet's deadliest diseases and one of the leading causes of sickness and death in the developing world. In the south-east Asian region, the highest number of estimated malaria cases was reported in India followed by Indonesia, Myanmar and Bangladesh.

Leishmaniasis or Kala-azar is another poverty-related disease. An estimated 2 million new cases occur annually, with about 12 million people currently infected. Since the introduction of miltefosine at the beginning of the last century, no new anti-leishmanial compounds have been approved for human treatment. India alone shares almost 50 percent of the world's burden of disease. In North Bihar, with world's highest prevalence of disease, traditional treatment with pentavalent antimony injections are becoming less effective.

The list of such diseases is long. But the underlying lack of new drugs remains a common threat that afflicts all diseases that predominantly affect the tropical region, away from the lucrative pharmaceutical markets.

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