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, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

You May Like

Republican Majority in Congress Off to Rough Start

Standoff over Homeland Security funding exposes philosophical, tactical problems within party More

Pakistan Blocks Baloch Activist from US Trip

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan slams Islamabad officials for stopping people from leaving country to attend human rights conference More

Video Muslims Long Thrived in North Carolina Before Students Killed

Idyll shattered February 10, when three Muslim university students living in Chapel Hill were gunned down by a neighbor 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.
Sierra Leone Ebola Orphans Face Another Crisisi
X
March 06, 2015 12:28 AM
There's growing concern about the future of an orphanage run by a British charity in Sierra Leone, after a staff member and his wife died this week from Ebola. The Saint George Foundation Orphanage in Freetown is now in quarantine, with more than 20 children and seven staff in lock-down. The BBC has agreed to share Ebola-related material with Voice of America because of the difficulties faced by media organizations reporting the crisis. Clive Myrie reports from Sierra Leone.
Video

Video Sierra Leone Ebola Orphans Face Another Crisis

There's growing concern about the future of an orphanage run by a British charity in Sierra Leone, after a staff member and his wife died this week from Ebola. The Saint George Foundation Orphanage in Freetown is now in quarantine, with more than 20 children and seven staff in lock-down. The BBC has agreed to share Ebola-related material with Voice of America because of the difficulties faced by media organizations reporting the crisis. Clive Myrie reports from Sierra Leone.
Video

Video Growing Concerns Over Whether Myanmar’s Next Elections Will Be Fair

Myanmar has scheduled national elections for November that are also expected to include a landmark referendum on the country's constitution. But there are growing concerns over whether the government is taking the necessary steps to prepare for a free and fair vote. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman was recently in Myanmar and files this report from our Southeast Asia bureau in Bangkok.
Video

Video Nigeria’s Ogonis Divided Over Resuming Oil Production

More than two decades ago, Nigeria’s Ogoni people forced Shell oil company to cease drilling on their land, saying it was polluting the environment. Now, some Ogonis say it’s time for the oil to flow once again. Chris Stein reports from Kegbara Dere, Nigeria.
Video

Video Winter Weather Strikes Eastern US...Again!

A new wintry blast has hit more than 20 states in the U.S. Midwest and Mid-Atlantic region, adding more snow to the piles from previous storms. Tired of shoveling snow, breaking the ice and dealing with accidents, flight delays and property damage, most Americans hope this is the last bout of cold for the season. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Muslims Long Thrived in N Carolina Before Slaying of 3 Students

The killings of three Muslim students in North Carolina early last month came as Muslims across the United States have felt under siege, partly as a result of terrorist attacks being committed internationally in the name of their faith. But Muslims have long thrived in university cities in this part of the American South. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Fuel Shortages in Nigeria Threaten Election Campaigns

Nigeria is suffering a gas shortage as the falling oil price has affected the country’s ability to import and distribute refined fuels. Coming just weeks before scheduled March 28 elections, the shortage could have a big impact on the campaign, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA.
Video

Video Report: Human Rights in Annexed Crimea Deteriorating

A new report by Freedom House and the Atlantic Council of the United States says the human rights situation in Crimea has deteriorated since the peninsula was annexed by Russia in March of last year. The report says the new authorities in Crimea are discriminating against minorities, suppressing freedom of expression, and forcing residents to assume Russian citizenship or leave. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video 50 Years Later African-Americans See New Voting Rights Battles Ahead

Thousands of people will gather to mark the 50th anniversary of a historic civil rights march on March 7th in Selma, Alabama. In 1965, dozens of people were seriously injured during the event known as “Bloody Sunday,” after police attacked African-American demonstrators demanding voting rights. VOA’s Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights pioneers who are still fighting for voting rights in Alabama more than 50 years later.
Video

Video Craft Brewers Taking Hold in US Beer Market

Since the 1950’s, the U.S. beer industry has been dominated by a handful of huge breweries. But in recent years, the rapid rise of small craft breweries has changed the American market and, arguably, the way people drink beer. VOA’s Jeff Custer reports.
Video

Video Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Authorities Struggle to Secure a Divided Mariupol

Since last month's cease-fire went into effect, shelling around the port city of Mariupol has decreased, but it is thought pro-Russian separatists remain poised to attack. For the city’s authorities, a major challenge is gaining the trust of residents, while at the same time rooting out informants who are passing sensitive information to the rebels. Patrick Wells reports for VOA.
Video

Video Myanmar's Traditional Fashion Choices Endure

The sartorial choices of Myanmar’s men and women quickly catch the eye of any visitor to the tropical Southeast Asian country. But at a time when Myanmar’s political and economic opening is bringing affordable western fashions to the masses, will the country’s unique fashion trends endure? VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Yangon explores that question.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More