Through a contribution to the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine for the Chagas Vaccine Initiative, the Carlos Slim Foundation has renewed its commitment to combat one of the major neglected tropical diseases in Latin America.
Chagas disease, also known as American trypanosomiasis, is found throughout the poorest parts of the Americas. It is a vector-borne disease, caused by the single celled parasite called Trypanosoma cruzi, which is transmitted to humans by triatomine “kissing” bugs and affects millions of people in the American continent, even here in the United States. The disease is an important cause of heart disease in Latin America. Today, between 5 and 10 million people live with Chagas disease in this region, including more than 1 million who suffer severe heart disease known as chagasic cardiomyopathy. It is estimated that one in four people infected with Trypanosoma cruzi will go on to develop heart complications.
The Foundation has contributed $2.6 million for the Chagas Vaccine Initiative.
“Together with the Carlos Slim Foundation and a consortium of partners in Mexico and elsewhere, including the Autonomous University of Yucatán and the Center for Research and Advances Studies of Mexico (CINVESTAV), we are working to develop an innovative therapeutic vaccine to prevent the dreaded cardiac complications of Chagas disease, which include heart conduction disturbances, aneurysms and even sudden death,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor and president of the Sabin Vaccine Institute. “This first vaccine may be used alongside existing medicines, such as benznidazole, in order to improve its performance and the clinical outcome of the disease. Because transmission of Chagas disease now also occurs in Texas, we believe that is a neglected tropical disease vaccine that will be used both here and abroad.” Hotez also serves as Texas Children’s Hospital Endowed Chair in Tropical Pediatrics.
“Through this very productive partnership, we are aiming to change the way the world addresses neglected tropical diseases,” said Dr. Roberto Tapia-Conyer, CEO of the Carlos Slim Foundation. “It is our firm belief that multi-institutional, public-private partnerships can mobilize knowledge and resources to fight this terrible group of poverty generating diseases.”
The Chagas Vaccine Initiative began in 2010 with the goal of accelerating Chagas disease vaccine research and development to establish the feasibility of developing and testing a therapeutic vaccine while enhancing and strengthening research and development capacity in Mexico.
Through the Sabin Vaccine Institute and Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development – a Product Development Partnership – researchers at Baylor have been working for the last five years to develop and test a bivalent vaccine for the treatment of chronic Chagas disease.
The goal for the next phase is to accelerate one of the lead vaccine candidate antigens into a regulatory filing and begin a first-in-human study, while continuing to enhance biotechnology capacity in Mexico.
“In my native Honduras, Chagas disease remains a major public health threat affecting hundreds of thousands of people living in poverty,” said Dr. Maria Elena Bottazzi, deputy director of the vaccine center and Product Development Partnership and associate dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor. “It is an honor to work with the Carlos Slim Foundation to develop a potentially lifesaving product that could one day benefit millions.”