News / Science & Technology

South Korean Lab Focuses on Neglected Diseases

A branch of a French research institute is developing new drugs to combat diseases mainly afflicting developing countries - including so-called neglected diseases, which kill millions of people each year. These diseases range from parasitic infections like sleeping sickness, to viral maladies like dengue fever. They typically get less attention from international drug companies looking to develop treatments that can generate larger profits.

There have been breakthroughs in fighting some of the world’s most serious and common diseases, thanks to start-up funding from South Korea’s science ministry, along with contributions from non-government groups in the United States, France and other countries.

Combining imaging technology and biotechnology, scientists are now able to witness infections as they occur, in real time.

Ulf Nehrbass calls it a "game-changer" for developing new drugs. He is the chief executive officer of the South Korean branch of the 124-year-old Institut Pasteur [IPK].

"We have been, for the first time, able to reconstitute this, to have pathogens in live human cells and we image that. We look at the infection as it happens. That’s entirely new. And so this has allowed us to develop drugs which are effective in a complex, very realistic system," said Nehrbass.

One of the targets is tuberculosis, a disease that has plagued humans since they lived in caves. It remains very difficult to treat. Patients must gobble handfuls of slow-acting and toxic pills for between six months and two years.

Kevin Pethe leads one of the IPK early discovery program groups, which is examining natural compounds and synthetic candidates to find better treatments.

"There are at least 300 or 400 natural compounds that are currently used in the fight against tuberculosis," said Pethe. "So we look at both. So we are very opportunistic."  

Lawrence Ayong from Cameroon leads a team seeking new drugs to battle endemic tropical diseases, such as malaria.

"Then inside the red blood cells you see the yellow color, which indicates the presence of parasites," said Ayong.

One of their biggest frustrations is that dangerous organisms are able to evolve and outwit the drugs designed to kill them.

"Here we are focused in developing innovative approaches that can help limit the spread of these drug-resistant parasites, be it in malaria, in leishmaniasis or chagas," he said.

Ayong has a warning for those in the developed world who believe neglected diseases are of no concern for them.

"With globalization it doesn’t matter where the disease is located. It’s going to affect everybody economically and even socially. So, I think the time is now for all of us to join efforts against all these diseases," said Ayong.

Outside of several U.N.-backed partnerships, the best laboratories in the world are not part of those efforts. They belong to the giant for-profit pharmaceutical companies.

Institut Pasteur Korea CEO Nehrbass said those corporations devote the bulk of their research budgets to finding blockbuster drugs, which could ring up billions of dollars in profits.

"Most of the infectious diseases, even the neglected diseases, do not fall under that category. There is a huge need, however. And I think we need to look at a new model of entities, new platforms that have to develop drugs in these areas, new public-private partnerships," said Nehrbass.

In the current economic climate even the most generous of philanthropists are streamlining contributions. That has researchers nervous that their money could run out before they are able to develop new and effective drugs targeting neglected diseases, a process that can take years, if not decades.


Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steven L Herman is the Voice of America Asia correspondent.

You May Like

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

Video Secret Service Chief Under Fire for White House Security Breach

Julia Pierson faces tough questions from lawmakers after recent intrusion at White House, says: 'It is clear that our security plan was not executed properly' More

Frustrated, Liberian Students Want Ebola Fight Role

Thousands have volunteered to go to counties, rural villages to talk to people in their language about deadly virus More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihadi
X
Mahi Ramakrishnan
September 30, 2014 2:16 PM
Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid