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

Video On the Scene: In Gaza, Darkness Brings Dread and Death

Palestinians fear nighttime raids, many feel abandoned by outside world, VOA's Scott Bobb reports More

African Small Farmers Could Be Key to Ending Food Insecurity

Experts say providing access to microloans, crop insurance, better storage facilities, irrigation, road systems and market information could enable greater production More

University of Michigan Wins Solar Car Race

Squad guided its student-designed solar-powered vehicle to fifth consecutive time victory in eight-day bi-annual American Solar Challenge 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.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid