April 17, 2016

Research Roundup: an affordable hepatitis C regimen, rapid diagnostics for neglected diseases, and fighting Zika with tires and milk

Senior Program Assistant

GHTC member the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative will test an affordable hepatitis C regimen in Malaysia and Thailand, with a guarantee from generic drug manufacturer Pharco Pharmaceuticals that, if successful, the product will be priced at no more than US$294 for the entire regimen. The regimen combines the registered drug sofosbuvir with the candidate ravidasvir, a promising treatment that cured up to 100 percent of patients with Hepatitis C genotype 4—the most common strain of the virus in the Middle East and Africa—in a phase 3 clinical trial in Egypt. The phase 2 and 3 trials in Malaysia and Thailand will test the regimen among 1,000 patients with different genotypes and the trial will be open to patients with varying levels of liver damage and those co-infected with HIV/AIDS.

The new SD BIOLINE Onchocerciasis and Lymphatic Filariasis IgG4 biplex rapid test held by a gloved hand.
The new SD BIOLINE Onchocerciasis and Lymphatic Filariasis IgG4 biplex rapid test (Photo: PATH/A. Golden)

PATH announced last week that two new rapid diagnostics for onchocerciasis (river blindness) and lymphatic filariasis (LF) are now commercially available. Onchocerciasis and LF are neglected tropical diseases, caused by parasitic worms, and spread by blackflies and mosquitoes, respectively. Onchocerciasis primarily affects the skin and eyes, resulting in itching, skin nodules, and blindness, while LF damages the lymphatic system resulting in physical disfigurement and disability. The tests were developed by PATH in partnership with the US National Institutes of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and will be commercialized by Standard Diagnostics/Alere moving forward. The new tools include a diagnostic for LF and another that tests for both diseases simultaneously. Both provide results in just 30 minutes and can be stored at temperatures ranging from 1 to 40°C (34 to 104°F). These tools offer significant improvements over existing diagnostics for LF and onchocerciasis. Previously, diagnosing LF required health workers to draw blood at night, when the parasites are active and consequently detectable, while onchocerciasis tests relied on a skin snip—the removal of inflamed skin. The tests will be invaluable for surveillance, control, and elimination programs.

Researchers from Canada and Mexico are using old tires and milk to reduce the population of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which carry the dengue, chikungunya, yellow fever, and Zika viruses. The device, known as an Ovillanta, is comprised of two 50-cm (20-in) sections of old tires—in which A. aegypti mosquitoes often breed—that are stacked to form a mouth-like shape. The Ovillanta is then filled with milk and a piece of wood or paper that floats like a raft. A. aegypti mosquitoes secrete a hormone when they lay eggs, which other mosquitoes use to identify ideal breeding spots. This hormone is initially added to the milk in the Ovantilla, and the mosquitoes are drawn to it, laying their eggs on the floating wood/paper, which are then collected and destroyed. The Ovillanta is an adaptation of the ovitrap, which uses a bucket and water rather than old tires and milk. The team, funded by Grand Challenges Canada, has been testing the Ovillanta in Sayaxché, Guatemala, and over ten months, the Ovillanta has proven seven times more effective than standard ovitraps. The team will next test the device throughout the region and have shared the design online so that anyone can create one for personal use.