Dengue fever research projects receive funding boost amid growing global concerns

Outbreaks of the mosquito-borne infection are increasing, and there have been recent warnings from the World Health Organisation (WHO) about dengue spreading to new areas across Europe and South America due to climate change. Warmer and wetter conditions mean that the disease is spreading more quickly and affecting regions where the number of cases has historically been low. 2023 saw the highest number of reported dengue cases on record (around 6.5 million, although this is likely a vast underreporting of cases). While many people have mild symptoms, the disease can be severe, leading to internal bleeding and organ failure. WHO reported 5,000 dengue-related deaths last year. There is currently no specific treatment for dengue, meaning that survival is dependent on close clinical monitoring and supportive care. However, in endemic countries, there can often be a surge in cases, which can overwhelm healthcare facilities.

WHO has set a target of eliminating all global deaths from the disease by 2030, and it has warned of an upsurge in cases and deaths unless urgent action is taken.

Today, three new research projects have received funding awards from LifeArc. Alongside the investment, each early-stage project will receive help and advice to overcome some of the key translational challenges in accelerating their scientific discoveries towards patient impact.

In India, one of the worst-affected countries in the world for dengue outbreaks, the Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee has been awarded just over £170,000 to explore new treatment approaches to the dengue virus. Their goal will be to identify novel antibodies that can improve drug delivery to infected cells.

Tranalab Pvt Ltd, a start-up based in Bangalore, India, has also received a grant to expand their proprietary targeted drug-delivery technology platform for creating therapeutic options against dengue, for which there is no approved drug. Their experience with targeted drug delivery, previously explored in the rare disease domain, could increase the efficacy of antivirals while decreasing side effects.

In Australia, where there is a high risk of future outbreaks, the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute (BDI) has received just over £164,000 from LifeArc to test patient samples and identify new biomarkers which might help to predict the severity of disease outcomes for patients.

The projects were originally submitted as part of the Johnson & Johnson Global Public Health Discovery QuickFire Challenge: Flavivirus Infections. The challenge invited innovators from across the Asia Pacific and Oceania regions to submit potentially groundbreaking ideas aiming to treat, control, or prevent flavivirus disease. LifeArc scientists were part of the judging panel and identified an opportunity to invest, enabling the funding of additional research projects.

Dr Mike Strange, Head of Global Health at LifeArc, says: “Dengue can have a significant impact on people’s lives, leading to long-term disability, poverty, and, in severe cases, even death. We’re proud to support these projects, which all show real promise and could contribute towards providing new treatments and improving our understanding of dengue.

“Without further investment in this type of research, dengue and other mosquito-borne viruses will continue to affect more people around the world, including in Europe where cases are increasing due to climate change.”

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