03 Mar HOOKVAC mentioned in Horizon
The fight against poverty-related diseases is gaining ground as scientists prepare trials of vaccines for hookworm, leishmaniasis and other parasitic diseases common in the developing world, thanks to the support of public research funding.
The problem has been that developing countries harbour most of the planet’s chronic diseases, but attract only a small share of its research funding.
That’s mainly because pharmaceutical companies require high returns to justify bank-busting research investments, but victims of poverty-related diseases can rarely afford to pay for patented medicines.
But the anaemia and stunted growth caused by parasitic infections keeps adults away from work, children out of school, and leaves economies on their knees.
That is why the EU is investing in research projects that fund early stage research and clinical trials, offering a chance for the private sector to exploit the results in later-stage development and marketing.
Success could improve close to a billion lives and support economic growth in countries held back by poor health.
The EU-funded HOOKVAC project, for example, is aiming to complete initial human tests on a vaccine for the parasite hookworm.
Project coordinator Dr Remko van Leeuwen, from the Amsterdam Institute for Global Health and Development, sees multiple advantages in this approach.
‘This is a disease that affects an awful number of people, it’s about 600 million people who are affected by this disease, he said.
‘We believe that a vaccine can really be effective and make a difference.’
‘This is the first time that we are testing a vaccine for a parasite,’ he said.
The vaccine that his team is developing through the HOOKVAC project targets primarily local populations in endemic countries, but Western travellers could also benefit from its results. ‘And the companies that partner with us are European start-ups,’ he added.
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