This year’s Else Kröner Fresenius Award for Development Cooperation in Medicine acknowledges Dr. Florent Mbo with the project “Sleeping sickness in Africa: Fexinidazole has arrived! Project toward promoting simple access to the new oral medication against sleeping sickness” from the non-profit research organization DNDi, the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative.
EKFS is consequently honoring a project from the sector that combats neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) and contributes significantly to the sustainable elimination of HAT in the Democratic Republic of Congo. DNDi was decisively involved during the development of a new oral therapy using fexinidazole, as well as during the creation of a platform toward combatting “sleeping sickness."
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines NTDs as a group of 20 diseases, most of which have infectious causes and – unlike malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS – receive little attention in terms of research and combatting the diseases. Worldwide, 1.4 billion people in 149 countries are affected: each year half a million people die directly or indirectly from NTDs.
Human African trypanosomiasis (HAT) is a neglected tropical disease (NTD) that occurs in sub-Saharan Africa.
The majority of affected patients lives in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Transmission of the pathogen takes place via the tsetse fly, often in riverine forests or when human beings wash themselves by a river or get water from it. The parasites carried via the fly bite infest the central nervous system and, at an advanced stage, a number of neuropsychiatric manifestations arise: “sleeping sickness” leads to sleeping disorders, including an acute urge to sleep during the daytime and awake phases at night, as well as other severe psychological disorders such as states of anxiety and aggressiveness. When untreated, “sleeping sickness” nearly always leads to the patient’s death.
For patients, the previous methods of treatment were associated with inpatient hospital stays and intravenous infusions. Fexinidazole is the first compound that permits a purely oral treatment of “sleeping sickness” – in the event that patients have not yet reached the complicated advanced stage of the disease. Patients can receive the treatment at home over a period of 10 days in the form of tablets. The active ingredient was developed as early as 1975, but marketing was discontinued a few years later. Parasitologist Professor Dr. Heinz Hänel was instrumental in "rediscovering" fexinidazole and resuming development of the drug at Sanofi-Aventis, which today manufactures fexinidazole and provides it free of charge in the quantities needed.
As practicing physician and as authority with knowledge of the local healthcare structures, award-winner Dr. Mbo is making a key contribution to the project’s success. He is responsible for coordinating the scientific, clinical and programmatic exchange between different stakeholders and makes it possible for healthcare personnel to be trained and for patients to receive access to tests and treatment.
Interview mit dem Parasitologen Prof. Dr. Heinz Hänel
Der Parasitologe Prof. Dr. Heinz Hänel trug maßgeblich dazu bei, dass Fexinidazol „wiederentdeckt“ und die Entwicklung des Medikamentes bei der Firma Sanofi-Aventis wiederaufgenommen wurde. Erfahren Sie im Interview, wie es dazu kam.