Sanofi’s role in eliminating sleeping sickness


Two major events for the Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) are taking place this week in Geneva.  On April 18th, the London Declaration on NTDs – Five Years of Progress event has marked the reaffirmation of Sanofi’s Commitment. Today, The World Health Organization (WHO) is holding a Global Partners Meeting on Neglected Tropical Diseases. Encapsulating the strong commitment to the mission shared by the partners, the theme of the event is “Collaborate. Accelerate. Eliminate.”


Back in January 2012, the World Health Organization (WHO) published a roadmap seeking to put an end to the transmission of a number of neglected tropical diseases. In this context, the London Declaration has been signed between WHO, Gates Foundation and stakeholders as well as 13 pharmaceutical companies including Sanofi among its signatories. This initiative highlighted ten specific neglected tropical diseases and set in motion programs to control or eliminate them by 2020. Sanofi has focused its efforts on sleeping sickness through a partnership with the World Health Organization established in 2001 encompassing provision of vital drugs and support for patient screening in endemic areas for HAT. This partnership has been extended in 2006 to Chagas, Leishmaniasis, Buruli ulcer and Yaws.




A lethal tropical disease


Despite its rather benign name, sleeping sickness is a widespread tropical disease that is usually fatal if not treated. More correctly called Human African Trypanosomiasis, or HAT, it is a vector-borne parasitic disease transmitted to humans by the tsetse fly. After infection, the disease progresses rapidly. The circulation and lymphatic systems are invaded by parasites, severe swelling occurs and the parasites soon attack the central nervous system.


There are 36 sub-saharian endemic countries where sixty million people who live mainly in rural parts of East, West and Central Africa are at risk of contracting sleeping sickness. The disease exists in two forms, although one (found in west and central Africa) is much more prevalent than the other (found in eastern and southern Africa). However, the version less common in humans is found more extensively in wild animals, which ultimately may make it more difficult to eliminate.

CDC – DPDx/ Alexander J. da Silva, PhD, Melanie Moser


Targeting elimination


The WHO has targeted the elimination of HAT as a public health problem (which means less than one new case per 10,000 inhabitants in at least 90% of endemic foci) by 2020, with sustainable elimination of transmission targeted for 2030.


Seeking to make this ambition a reality, an innovative partnership between Sanofi and the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiatves (DNDi) has been set up for the development of fexinidazole in 2009. DNDi will carry out clinical testing and Sanofi will be responsible for industrial development, production and obtaining regulatory approval. This first oral medical therapy of sleeping sickness will simplify treatment by avoiding systematic hospitalization and removing the need of lumbar puncture for patient. This anti-parasitic drug is a compound originally developed around 40 years ago but identified by DNDi as a candidate for treating HAT.


Promising results of pivotal clinical trials completed in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic are enabling Sanofi to pursue submission for approval by health authorities. Fexinidazole could represent a therapeutic breakthrough which will support sustainable elimination efforts as per WHO roadmap for 2020.


On track to eliminate sleeping sickness


“Today, we are on track to eliminate sleeping sickness as a public health problem by 2020 but we cannot be complacent. Our success is depending on reaching those last patients, while keeping in mind that this mission will be our toughest challenge. One of our guiding principles, from the very beginning, is that “drugs are not enough”. The role of each partners here present is and will remain critical to success” advocated Olivier Brandicourt, Chief Executive Officer of Sanofi and Ameet Nathwani, Chief Medical Officer of Sanofi, both present at those events.


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