UNMC team leads fight against 'snail fever'

by Kalani Simpson, UNMC public relations | September 15, 2015

Image with caption: Jonathan Vennerstrom, Ph.D.

Jonathan Vennerstrom, Ph.D.

Jonathan Vennerstrom, Ph.D., is getting the old gang back together again. This time, to take on schistosomiasis or "snail fever."

Dr. Vennerstrom, professor in the UNMC College of Pharmacy, and his UNMC team previously collaborated with researchers from Australia's Monash University and the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute to discover the new antimalarial drug Synriam, and the antimalarial drug candidate, OZ439, currently in Phase IIb clinical trials. If successful, OZ439 would be a single-dose antimalarial drug, a long-sought breakthrough against an illness that the World Health Organization estimates affected 198 million worldwide in 2013.

Now UNMC, led by Dr. Vennerstrom and his colleagues, Yuxiang Dong, Ph.D., and Xiaofang Wang, Ph.D., again teams up with Monash and Swiss TPH, to take on schistosomiasis.

The tropical parasitic disease, caused by parasites that live in some freshwater snails, may affect as many as 440 million individuals worldwide, Dr. Vennerstrom said, with perhaps 779 million living at risk of infection. Its impact is second only to malaria as the most devastating parasitic disease, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

And a new drug to fight it is desperately needed. That's where the international team comes in.

The project to find one has been awarded an RO1 grant from the National Institutes of Health for more than $3 million over five years. Dr. Vennerstrom and his collaborators will strive to identify one or more antischistosomal drug development candidates.

"This collaborative project brings together three labs with complementary expertise and skill sets in medicinal chemistry, ADME (absorption, distribution, metabolism, and excretion), and schistosome drug studies," Dr. Vennerstrom said.

Dr. Vennerstrom and his UNMC College of Pharmacy team are the medicinal chemistry experts. Susan Charman, Ph.D., heads up Monash University's efforts in drug candidate profiling. And Jennifer Keiser, Ph.D., and her Swiss TPH colleagues, bring a team that knows snail fever and previous efforts to combat the disease.

The long-term goal, Dr. Vennerstrom said, is to discover a new orally-active, single-dose drug effective against all parasite stages. The team believes it has some innovative, promising leads -- and the NIH agrees.

Harold M Maurer
November 25, 2015 at 1:02 PM

Congratulations and good work, John. Hal Maurer.