Merck partners with University of California, San Diego (UCSD) to fight Neglected Tropical Diseases

MerckMerck, a leading science and technology company, today announced that it has agreed with the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) to share compounds under the WIPO Re:Search open innovation umbrella, thereby deepening its efforts in the fight against Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) to identify potential cures for leishmaniasis, Chagas disease (American trypanosomiasis) and human African trypanosomiasis (HAT, sleeping sickness).

"The UCSD partnership helps us streamline the R&D process by sharing our proprietary compounds and leveraging the University's expertise. Despite the increasingly challenging and complex R&D environment, we will continue to contribute to the development of safe and effective treatments for the one billion people affected by NTDs," said Belén Garijo, Member of the Executive Board of Merck and CEO Healthcare.

The screening of Merck compounds will be led by Dr. James McKerrow, Dean of the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at UCSD. The diseases at stake have a significant impact on underserved populations with up to 1 million cases of leishmaniasis annually, 6-7 million people infected with Chagas disease, and 13.1 million people at risk for HAT. New treatments for these diseases are needed as current options are limited.

Dr. James McKerrow of UCSD commented, "If we are to find new, effective, and safe drugs to treat major global health problems, including the three diseases targeted by this collaboration, the entire R&D process and drug development pipeline must be streamlined through innovative partnerships. Combining the historical success of Merck, a leading science and technology company, with the scientific innovation and commitment of the University of California San Diego, creates a model partnership to address the medical needs of the hundreds of millions people who suffer from neglected tropical diseases. I am confident that amongst the unique compounds shared by the Merck library will be just the type of drug leads needed for the treatment of Chagas Disease, Leishmaniasis, and African Trypanosomiasis."

To ensure that new generations of improved treatments and interventions are discovered despite low commercial incentives in the area of NTDs, Merck is engaging in open innovation platforms such as WIPO Re:Search, which facilitated the Merck-UCSD collaboration. WIPO Re:Search is an open innovation platform sponsored by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) to accelerate early discovery for infectious diseases through the sharing of knowledge.

Merck joined the platform in 2014 and launched its first collaboration based on it in 2016 with the University of Buea, Cameroon to screen Merck compounds to help find a cure for onchocerciasis. Also known as "river blindness," onchocerciasis afflicts 37 million people with 120 million at risk, primarily in underserved tropical countries. The Welcome Trust Pathfinder Award was granted to Merck and the University of Buea for this early-stage research.

This collaboration also reinforces Merck’s commitment to the London Declaration, an unprecedented public-private multi-stakeholder partnership to catalyze momentum in reaching World Health Organization (WHO) 2020 NTD goals to control, eliminate or eradicate 10 NTDs, including leishmaniasis and Chagas disease. When the partnership was launched in 2012, Merck pledged a tenfold increase in its praziquantel donation to fight schistosomiasis, the worm disease, until its elimination. Between 2012 and 2016, Merck increased its donation from 25 million to 200 million tablets. At least 218 million people needed treatment in 2015, with 90% residing in Africa.

Merck's UCSD collaboration is a strategic part of its Access to Health (A2H) approach to improve sustainable access to high-quality health solutions for underserved populations in low and middle income countries, also known as the "4As of Access": Availability, Affordability, Awareness & Accessibility. Sharing proprietary knowledge with leading academic partners in areas where Merck has no specific expertise but do have relevant compounds enables the acceleration of R&D for NTDs so that science progresses and new generations of health solutions to address the needs of the poorest are discovered.

About leishmaniasis
Leishmaniasis a disease caused by parasites of the Leishmania type. It is spread by the bite of certain types of sandflies. About 4 to 12 million people are currently infected in ca. 100 countries. An estimated 700 000 - 1 million new cases and 20 000 to 30 000 deaths occur annually.

About Chagas Disease
Chagas disease is a tropical parasitic disease mostly spread by insects known as Triatominae or kissing bugs. About 6 - 7 million people worldwide are estimated to be infected with Trypansosoma cruzi, the parasite that causes Chagas disease. It is estimated that 6.6 million people have Chagas disease as of 2015. In 2015, Chagas was estimated to result in 8,000 deaths. Most people with the disease are poor and most do not realize they are infected.

About human African trypanosomiasis (HAT, sleeping sickness)
African trypanosomiasis, also known as sleeping sickness, is an insect-borne parasitic disease of humans and other animals. The disease occurs regularly in some regions of sub-Saharan Africa with the population at risk being about 70 million in 36 countries. An estimated 11,000 people are currently infected with 2,800 new infections in 2015. In 2015 it caused around 3,500 deaths, down from 34,000 in 1990. Diagnosis and treatment of the disease is complex and requires specifically skilled staff.

About UCSD
The University of California San Diego(UCSD) is the home of the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences(SSPPS). UCSD is already known as a crucible of innovation in bioengineering. genetics, and health sciences. SSPPS houses the Center for Discovery and Innovation in Parasitic Diseases(www.cdipd.org) that is dedicated to discovering and developing new drugs for neglected tropical diseases. To facilitate this process, CDIPD maintains the organisms responsible for the three diseases targeted in this collaboration, as well as mouse models of the diseases themselves. This ensures that any compound discovered as effective against the parasites in an HTS culture screen, can be further developed through a proof of concept study in an animal model of disease. To facilitate screening of the compounds provided by Merck, CDIPD maintains a state of the art drug screening center robotically driven and housed in a Biosafety Level II facility. Dr. Jair Lage de Squeira-Neto, the scientist who developed HTS screens for T.cruzi and Leishmania while at Institute Pasteur, is now the Director of the CDIPD center.

About WIPO Re:Search
WIPO Re:Search was founded in 2011 with 31 members and has grown to encompass over 100 members with diverse representation from for-profit, nonprofit, government, academic and research organizations. Currently, 110 collaborations have been facilitated targeting a variety of infectious diseases. The platform demonstrates it is possible for diverse stakeholders to work together to address the knowledge imbalances in the innovation system through collaborative approaches around the creative use of IP in order to find pragmatic solutions to overcome access barriers.

About Merck
Merck is a leading science and technology company in healthcare, life science and performance materials. Around 50,000 employees work to further develop technologies that improve and enhance life – from biopharmaceutical therapies to treat cancer or multiple sclerosis, cutting-edge systems for scientific research and production, to liquid crystals for smartphones and LCD televisions. In 2016, Merck generated sales of € 15.0 billion in 66 countries.

Founded in 1668, Merck is the world's oldest pharmaceutical and chemical company. The founding family remains the majority owner of the publicly listed corporate group. Merck, Darmstadt, Germany holds the global rights to the Merck name and brand. The only exceptions are the United States and Canada, where the company operates as EMD Serono, MilliporeSigma and EMD Performance Materials.

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