University students from India, the UK, and the US will collaborate on a new first-of-its-kind research and development project aimed at discovering potential drugs for patients living with neglected diseases like kala-azar. The ‘Open Synthesis Network (OSN)’ project between five universities was launched by non-profit research and development organization Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi) this week. It involves collaboration between 25 undergraduate and Master’s students in Chemistry from participating universities. During the 2016-2017 academic year, they will work on improving chemical compounds for the neglected disease visceral leishmaniasis (VL) known as kala-azar in India.
“Through the Network, students contribute to a real-life medicinal chemistry project with the potential to make a concrete impact on the results of their lab work. Instead of training on more traditional synthetic targets such as aspirin or paracetamol, students can instead produce samples of new chemicals relevant to DNDi’s cutting edge neglected disease research,” said Ben Perry, Senior Discovery Manager at DNDi. “And DNDi gets to access their creativity and the collective synthetic power of university training in a way that could resolve some of the research and development challenges we are facing in our quest to bring new treatments to neglected patients,” Perry said.
The network comprises of the Shobhaben Pratapbhai Patel School of Pharmacy & Technology Management at Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies (NMIMS) in Mumbai, the Indian Institute of Chemical Technology (IICT) in Hyderabad; Imperial College London; Northeastern University in Boston; and Pace University in New York City. “These projects allow our students to do real innovative science at the cutting edge of drug development. They have access to every part of the process, including designing, synthesizing and testing,” said Imperial College London’s Professor Ed Tate, Course Director for the MRes Drug Discovery and Development.
“Our students get the opportunity to work with a global organization doing the best science for the most neglected tropical diseases, contributing to international development and networking with their peers across three continents,” Tate said. All work generated by OSN will be published in the public domain in real-time and remain free of intellectual property. This is the first example of an Open Source Pharma type approach being used to tackle kinetoplastid diseases such as leishmaniasis.
Students will work on compounds that kill leishmania donovani and leishmania infantum, the parasites that cause visceral leishmaniasis – an illness that kills up to 30,000 people yearly. “New and novel initiatives such as this train students to an exceptionally high level, such that they are more than capable of becoming the drug discovery champions of the future,” said David Mountford, Senior Teaching Fellow in Medicinal Chemistry at Imperial College. Successful compounds coming from the OSN project will be evaluated further as part of DNDi’s discovery pipeline.