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

Report: $60 Billion Leaves Africa Illegally Each Year

Report by joint UN and African Union panel says African countries need to take concrete measures to stop illegal money flow from continent each year More

Video Spy Murder Probe Likely to Further Strain British-Russian Relations

Some analysts say Russian Tu-95 bombers were flying near British airspace to warn Britain about an inquest into a murdered Russian spy More

Mugabe Defends Image Amid Controversy at Close of AU Summit

He rejects concerns about how the West might perceive his leadership, saying he's focused on African development 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.
Spy Murder Probe Likely to Further Strain British-Russian Relationsi
X
Henry Ridgwell
January 31, 2015 10:50 PM
Relations between Russia and the West are set to become even more strained amid an inquiry in London into the murder of a former Russian spy. Lawyers at the inquiry accuse Russian President Vladimir Putin of directing a "mafia state." Meanwhile, Royal Air Force fighters intercepted Russian bombers close to British airspace this week, prompting authorities to summon Moscow’s ambassador. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Spy Murder Probe Likely to Further Strain British-Russian Relations

Relations between Russia and the West are set to become even more strained amid an inquiry in London into the murder of a former Russian spy. Lawyers at the inquiry accuse Russian President Vladimir Putin of directing a "mafia state." Meanwhile, Royal Air Force fighters intercepted Russian bombers close to British airspace this week, prompting authorities to summon Moscow’s ambassador. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Neighborhood Divided Over Conflict

People in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk districts find themselves squarely in the path of advancing Russian-backed rebels, who want to take back the territory they held at the beginning of the conflict last year. Many local residents are afraid, but others would welcome the change, even when a rebel shell lands in their neighborhood. From the Luhansk district, 15 kilometers from where the Ukrainian government marks the front line, VOA’s Al Pessin reports.
Video

Video Threat of Creeping Lava Has Hawaiians on Edge

Residents of the small town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii face an advancing threat from the Kilauea volcano. Local residents are keeping a watchful eye on creeping lava. Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Jefferson's Library Continues to Impress, 200 Years Later

Two hundred years after the U.S. Congress purchased a huge collection of books belonging to former President Thomas Jefferson, it remains one of America’s greatest literal treasures and has become the centerpiece of Washington’s Library of Congress. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Pro-Kremlin Youth Group Creatively Promotes 'Patriotic' Propaganda

As Russia's President Vladimir Putin faces international pressure over Ukraine and a failing economy, unofficial domestic groups are rallying to his support. One such youth organization, CET, or Network, uses creative multimedia to appeal to Russia's urban youth with patriotic propaganda. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Filmmakers Produce Hand-Painted Documentary on Van Gogh

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Issues or Ethnicity? Question Divides Nigeria

As Nigeria goes to the polls next month, many expect the two top presidential contenders to gain much of their support from constituencies organized along ethnic or religious lines. But are faith and regional blocs really what political power in Nigeria is about? Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.

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

All About America

AppleAndroid