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Featured News Tackling the biggest killer you may never have heard of

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Tue, 27 Jun 2017

Tackling the biggest killer you may never have heard of

Merck, a leading science and technology company, has announced a three-year research partnership to continue efforts to eliminate one of the world’s most devastating parasitic diseases.

Schistosomiasis affects more than 200 million people worldwide and is prevalent in the world’s poorest populations where people live without access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation. School-aged children are particularly vulnerable to the disease which is caused by parasitic worms and can cause anaemia, stomach pain, diarrhoea, bladder cancer and delayed cognitive development and growth.

Merck has combined with the Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine (AITHM) at James Cook University in Cairns, Baylor College of Medicine (Texas, USA) and Austrade, the Australian Government’s investment promotion agency, to work on developing diagnostic tools and vaccines for schistosomiasis.

Managing Director, Merck Biopharma, Australia and New Zealand, Mr Drew Young said, “While not high profile, schistosomiasis is a deadly disease claiming 200,000 lives each year. Merck is proud to announce this collaboration with Australian researchers and Austrade which aims to identify schistosomiasis biomarkers and develop new diagnostics so all schistosomiasis patients can receive timely treatment. Merck will co-invest $200,000 per year for the duration of the three-year partnership which is part of our global commitment to help eliminate this disease.”

Mr Paul Field, Austrade’s Senior Investment Specialist said, “The collaboration between AITHM, Merck and Baylor College of Medicine on schistosomiasis is a leading example of Australian researchers working with international organisations to address issues of global health. We were delighted to award the grant to the AITHM team led by Professor Alex Loukas and to facilitate this investment by Merck into Australian research.”

Professor Alex Loukas, Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine, said, “The gold standard for assessing schistosomiasis infection status relies on microscopy-based approaches that are insensitive and inadequate, particularly when diagnosing patients with low intensity infections. As a result of the funding provided by Merck and Austrade, we will use post-genomic tools to discover and develop new diagnostics that will ultimately become the basis of a field-deployed Point-of-Care test.”

The Merck Global Health Institute’s current portfolio includes, among others, the screening of Merck’s compound library through a dedicated schistosomiasis drug discovery platform, and the development of innovative schistosomiasis diagnostics in association with the current efforts of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Media enquiries: linden.woodward@jcu.edu.au