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Why Anti-Wolbachia?


AWOL is targeting Wolbachia – a type of bacteria that lives inside the cells of the parasitic worms. As the worms are dependent on Wolbachia bacteria for growth, development, reproduction and survival, eliminating the bacteria with antibiotic drugs kills the worms and delivers a new and practical solution for eradicating these debilitating diseases.

Existing Treatment Options

Filarial nematodes are an important group of human pathogens infecting around 150 million people throughout the tropics with more than 1.5 billion at risk of infection. Filariasis accounts for some of the most debilitating global diseases that affect the ‘poorest of the poor’ resulting in a profound socio-economic impact on the most vulnerable in society. Control of filariasis currently relies on mass drug administration (MDA) programmes based on the generous drug donation programmes for Mectizan® (ivermectin – Merck and Co. Inc) and albendazole (GlaxoSmithKline).

These drugs are administered either singly (ivermectin for onchocerciasis) or in combination (for lymphatic filariasis in Africa, or with diethylcarbamazine [DEC] for the rest of the world) by community-directed treatment. These drugs need to be taken for extended periods to cover the reproductive lifespan of the long-lived adult worms. Programmes for onchocerciasis control, (APOC and OEPA) together with lymphatic filariasis (GPELF) have been established to promote and sustain the application of MDA to affected communities. Two of the major constraints of programme success are:

  • (i) the absence of a drug with permanent sterilization
  • (ii) worms developing drug-resistance

The A∙WOL Approach

In both the lab and the field, A∙WOL are working to refine existing antibiotics to establish the best possible course of treatment which is practical for use within control programmes for human filariasis. We are also researching entirely new drugs to provide alternative treatments for human filariasis to beat resistance and to ensure that the long-term goal of global elimination of this public health problem is achieved.

A∙WOL has already reduced treatment times from weeks to just a few days

These goals are aimed at addressing the strategies of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Health programme for Onchocerciasis and Lymphatic Filariasis by “Improving treatment outcomes through research to develop a macrofilaricide drug that can eliminate the worm” and by “Eliminating transmission and/or disease by developing sustainable approaches for making better use of available drugs and drug combinations.”

A∙WOL has four approaches to beating filariasis:

  • Field Trials are refining existing administration of drugs (with proven activity against Wolbachia) to provide alternative treatments and to beat resistant worms.
  • Assay Development is using the latest laboratory techniques in combinational high throughput screening technologies as a novel tool to screen existing and novel compounds.
  • Library Screening is testing over 60,000 compounds against Wolbachia and filarial nematodes.
  • Target discovery is detecting the processes necessary for Wolbachia survival and why worms and Wolbachia have a symbiotic relationship.