Research Roundup: Rapid test for bacterial infections, one drug to treat three neglected diseases, and innovations to combat Zika
Reducing unnecessary antibiotic use is widely considered a priority action in combating the spread of antimicrobial resistance. In the United States, one-third of antibiotic prescriptions are unnecessary and each year, there are 27 million gratuitous prescriptions for respiratory infections alone. Rapid, point-of-care diagnostics that can discern if an infection is bacterial could significantly reduce this practice, preventing antibiotic prescriptions for viral, parasitic, or fungal infections. There are now several tests in the pipeline which evaluate the level of C-reactive protein (CRP) in the bloodstream, a molecule associated with inflammation. CRP levels increase significantly in response to bacterial infections, but only slightly in response to viral infections. Not only have several of these tests proven reliable, but new research conducted by the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit in Vietnam indicates that such a test can successfully decrease antibiotic prescriptions for respiratory infections in low-resource settings. The study monitored antibiotic use for 2,000 patients at ten primary health centers, and use of the test reduced prescriptions from 78 to 64 percent, without impacting clinical recovery or patient satisfaction rates.
Scientists have identified a compound that shows promise in treating three different parasitic diseases—Chagas disease, sleeping sickness, and leishmaniasis—that effect 20 million people and result in 50,000 deaths each year. The three diseases are caused by distinct parasites and transmitted by different vectors. Chagas disease results in cardiac complications, sleeping sickness causes neurological symptoms, and leishmaniasis manifests as skin sores and liver and/or spleen damage. Existing treatments are toxic, expensive, and difficult to administer in low-resource settings. The compound—GNF6702—was developed by pharmaceutical company Novartis and discovered after screening 3 million molecules in the company’s compound library. The molecule was then modified, resulting in a drug with 20 times the original potency. The compound targets proteasome—which breaks down waste—in all three parasites, but does not have the same effect in mammal cells. The drug has proven effective in mice, and will undergo additional safety tests before the initiation of human clinical trials.
The US Agency for International Development (USAID) announced last week the initial winners of its Combating Zika and Future Threats Grand Challenge, through which the agency will be providing more than US$15 million for the development and introduction of 21 innovative tools and interventions. In just two months, USAID received and reviewed nearly 900 applications, addressing various parts of outbreak prevention, detection, and control, including vector control, personal and household protection, vector and disease surveillance, community engagement, and diagnostic innovations. The winners include an electric force field to repel mosquitoes; a flip phone–based app that can distinguish between mosquito species, enabling crowdsourced vector surveillance; insecticide-treated sandals; and a human-scented mosquito trap. The agency will announce additional winners in the next month and will invest up to $30 million total.