CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — A consortium led by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is to receive another $21.3 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop drugs for fighting two diseases largely found in Africa and developing countries.

The latest in a series of three grants made by the foundation dating back to 2000 are for efforts to fight sleeping sickness, or trypanosmiasis, and leishmaniasis. Sleeping sickness kills more than 300,000 people a year in sub-Saharan Africa. The two forms of leishmaniasis affect 2 million people annually with either attacks on internal organs or the skin. The grants now total more than $58 million.

Researchers from UNC, several U.S. universities, Europe and Kenya will be involved in the program.

The principal investigator is Rick Tidwell, a pathology professor, at UNC. Tidwell teaches at UNC’s School of Medicine and Pharmacy.

UNC also received a $22.6 million grant this past spring for use in a clinical trial of a proposed sleeping drug sickness treatment. A Phase III clinical trial of an oral drug for treating stage one of African sleeping sickness is now underway. The drug, given orally, is called pafuramidine maleate, or DB289. If it wins approved, DB289 would be the first new drug for sleeping sickness in more than 50 years.
“The latest funding by the Gates Foundation provides us a unique opportunity to bring about substantial and lasting therapies for these deadly neglected diseases,” Tidwell said.
The UNC grant was one of several announced by the Gates Foundation on Thursday. Totaling more than $68 million, the grants are for use in fighting what the Foundation called “neglected diseases”.
“Dr. Tidwell and his colleagues have already made important progress in developing new tools for these neglected diseases,” said Regina Rabinovich, president of the Gates Foundation’s Infectious Disease Program. “We hope that their work will inspire other researchers to focus greater attention on these and other overlooked diseases that continue to afflict millions of people in the world’s poorest countries.”

In a statement, UNC and the Gates Foundation outlined four specific goals for the grant:

  • Develop a new oral drug to treat African sleeping sickness (rypanosomiasis) in patients suffering from the disease’s second stage, in which the central nervous system is affected.
  • Develop a new oral drug for treating visceral leishmaniasis. (The visceral version attacks internal organs.)
  • Evaluate, validate and co-develop drug candidates from outside the consortium for both African sleeping sickness and visceral leishmaniasis.
  • Conduct a thorough and accurate assessment of the current status of African sleeping sickness, to aid in the development of a global access plan to ensure that new drugs are used most effectively in future disease control programs.
  • The first grant the Gates Foundation made to the Tidwell-led effort was for $15.1 million in 2000.

    Sleeping sickness is spread by tsetse fly bites.

    Leishmaniasis is caused by a parasite. It infects some 12 million people in 88 countries.

    Doctors involved in the drug research efforts include David Boykin and David Wilson at Georgia State University; Michael Barrett at the University of Glasgow; Grace Murilla at the Kenya Trypanosomiasis Research Institute; Steven Meshnick and J. Ed Hall of UNC’s Schools of Public Health and Pharmacy, respectively; Karl Werbovitz at Ohio State University; Dennis Kyle at the University of South Florida; and Reto Brun at the Swiss Tropical Institute.

    For more details and information about the other grants, see:

    Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation: