Researchers of geniusx funciona from Uganda, funded by Canada, are testing in a popular antidepressant that could be used to fight against a brain fungal disease that is charged each year 600,000 lives in sub-Saharan Africa.
Sertraline, also known as Zoloft or Lustral, was introduced for the first time by the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer in 1991. Since then it has become the second most-prescribed antidepressant in the United States.
The researchers of the Institute of infectious diseases in Uganda at Makerere University hope to show that it can be used to contain the early deaths of meningeal Cryptococcosis, an infection of the tissue that covers the brain and charged 600,000 lives in sub-Saharan Africa each year.
“We hope to teach new tricks for an old drug,” said lead author David Meià, in a telephone interview with AFP from Uganda.
“Our hope is that if the drug works against Cryptococcosis meningena, we can reduce rates of mortality from 40% to 50%, which could lead to a big jump.”
More than 30% of patients die at 10 weeks of the onset of the disease, which has been linked to AIDS.
Currently, the disease is treated with two drugs, both developed in the 50 that are “very expensive and are not easily available in sub-Saharan Africa”, said Meià.
A third drug is used but is less effective, he added.
“So if we discover another drug that is more effective against the meningeal Cryptococcosis and is cheaper, we can substantially reduce the mortality rates in sub-Saharan Africa”.
Since the patent for sertraline has already expired, it would be even possible to manufacture generic and sell it more cheaply.
The Canadian Government contributed to this research, with 100,000 Canadian dollars (99.364 us) as part of a program called Grand Challenges Canada.
It is one of more than 100 scholarships to 13 Nations in developing innovative of developed in Canada for “ideas creative and courageous to solve health problems”, according to a statement.
The funding will be spent on trying to develop remote diagnostics, surveillance, health protection as well as development and access to drugs and vaccines.
Other projects funded by these grants include a vaccine for smokers against the addictive effects of nicotine, a glucose meter as an accessory of a cell phone a test cheap to diagnose deadly diseases such as dengue and ebola.