The leishmania parasite is spread through the bite of a sand fly, resulting in various of forms of leishmaniasis, including visceral (affects vital organs, destroys blood cells and is lethal in untreated cases – this form is often called “kala-azar”) and cutaneous (causes lesion and disfiguring scars on face, arms, etc.) There are some 10+ million people currently infected with the parasite worldwide, and leishmaniasis threatens 350 million people in 88 countries.
Sadly, most of the deaths due to this disease occur in children. In addition, the cutaneous form of the disease is a harbinger of strong social stigmas, such as isolation and abandonment, for women in areas of ingrained gender stereotypes. Women harbor the asymptomatic form of low-grade infections more often than men, and their poorer general health and nutrition increases the risk of progressing to full-blown disease.
With funding from the National Institutes of Health and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, researchers are actively developing diagnostics and vaccines for both the cutaneous and visceral forms of this deadly and disfiguring disease.
IDRI was actually founded based on the need to develop a diagnostic for leishmaniasis. Previously, invasive biopsies were used to detect the disease; IDRI developed an easy-to-use, painless diagnostic that uses a single drop of blood. Now, IDRI scientists are working on second generation diagnostics, as well as diagnostics that serve as a test of cure.
Current treatment for leishmaniasis is based on chemotherapy, which relies on a handful of drugs that are associated with serious limitations such as high cost, toxicity and lack of efficacy in endemic areas where the parasite is transmitted. Vaccination remains the best hope for control of the leishmaniasis disease, and the development of a safe, effective and affordable anti-leishmania vaccine is a critical global public-health priority
IDRI has developed a vaccine with a powerful adjuvant to stimulate an immune response against the leishmania parasite. We are the only organization that has developed vaccine candidates for both cutaneous and visceral forms of leishmaniasis.
Clinical studies of IDRI’s human visceral leishmaniasis vaccine candidate have been conducted in the United States.
IDRI has also transferred its vaccine technology to India for local production. We believe the best place to manufacture is where the disease is most prevalent and the need for a vaccine is greatest.
IDRI’s scientists were the first to identify rK39, a recombinant antigen that can be used to diagnose more than 98% of human visceral leishmaniasis cases with only a drop of blood.
Our diagnostic is simple and easy to use in the field, requiring a single drop of blood to quickly diagnose leishmaniasis, rather than the previous method of diagnosis which was invasive and painful.
The diagnostic, developed using IDRI technology, is currently being used around the world.