The Tropinhi Consortium has received a €1.5 million grant from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). The consortium will use the grant to develop new treatments against infectious tropical diseases such as malaria, dengue and zika. Tropinhi is a framework of cooperation involving Radboud university medical center, Radboud University and the spinoffs Protinhi Therapeutics and TropIQ Health Sciences, which are located on the NovioTechCampus.Malaria and dengue fever are transmitted by mosquitoes. Both diseases are a severe threat to public health. In 2015, there were approximately 214 million cases of malaria, resulting in more than 430,000 deaths, primarily in sub-Saharan Africa. Every year, nearly 400 million people become infected with dengue fever, and both the endemic area and the number of clinical cases continue to increase.
CEO of TropIQ Koen Dechering, who is coordinating the research project together with chemist Martin Feiters of Radboud University, explains: “Malaria treatments are available, but the parasites are developing resistance to them. Moreover, these medications control only the parasites in people, not in the mosquitos. An effective approach to malaria requires new medications that prevent mosquito-borne transmission of parasites. We now have good candidates for such medications, and with this consortium we can accelerate their development.”
Most vulnerable patients
Protinhi is developing a medication against dengue fever and related viral diseases such as zika. Bernd van Buuren, CEO of Protinhi, explains: “No medication is currently available to treat dengue or zika. For dengue, a partially effective vaccine is available, but it cannot be used for the most vulnerable patients: children under nine years. A therapeutic medication is therefore urgently needed to combat these diseases.”
The dengue virus proliferates by having its genetic material read by the infected cells of the patient. This results in large viral proteins that are cut into smaller pieces by proteases. These small proteins drive the production of new virus particles, which subsequently infect new cells. According to chemist Martin Feiters, co-founder of Protinhi: “During the cutting and splitting of those large proteins, proteases from both the virus and the patient are involved. We are working on a medication that specifically inhibits the dengue protease. As a result, we can control the virus with few or no side effects for humans. Together with Ronald van Rij at the Department of Medical Microbiology of Radboud university medical center, we are looking for the best way to work with these new dengue virus inhibitors. We have good evidence that we can also use this technology to develop new medications for both malaria and zika.”
The research group of Ronald van Rij at Radboud university medical center specialises in mosquito-borne viruses, such as the West Nile virus, dengue and chikungunya. Van Rij: “Our research focuses on host factors, both in humans and mosquitoes, which impact the efficiency of virus transmission. This enhances our understanding of virus transmission by mosquitoes. In addition, this knowledge is crucial to the development of effective medications.”
Due to the public-private partnership, Tropinhi (a conjunction of TropIQ and Protinhi) can make optimal use of the vast knowledge that is available in Nijmegen on infectious diseases and their control. For example, the Department of Synthetic Organic Chemistry at Radboud University has expertise in designing and building organic molecules; subsequently, the companies in the consortium can test, develop and potentially market these as new pharmaceuticals. And Radboud university medical center provides fundamental knowledge about the interaction of the potential medications with viruses and parasites in the human body and can also test their effects in animals and people.
In this way, the ERDF grant will promote effective collaboration in tropical infectious diseases. The funding impulse is also expected to provide new employment opportunities for the eastern Netherlands region. In the short term, this will result in additional research employment for highly educated knowledge workers. If the research results are positive, in the long term this will also lead to more employment in product development.
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