Tag Archives: Merck

Sabin Celebrates 20 Years of Operations with a Star-Studded Event



This post originally appeared on the Sabin Vaccine Institute blog.

In celebration of twenty years since its founding, the Sabin Vaccine Institute (Sabin) will bring together top leaders in the global health community for its 20th Anniversary Scientific Symposium on Friday, April 25 in Washington, DC.

The program will include an impressive lineup of speakers including Dr. Seth Berkley (GAVI Alliance); Dr. Margaret Chan (WHO); Dr. Mickey Chopra (UNICEF); Dr. Carissa Etienne (PAHO); Dr. Julio Frenk (Harvard University); Dr. Julie Gerberding (Merck Vaccines and the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations); Dr. Lance Gordon (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation); and Dr. Mahendra Suhardono (Biofarma and the Developing Countries Vaccine Manufacturers Network).  On behalf of Sabin’s vaccine leadership, President Dr. Peter Hotez and Executive Vice President Dr. Ciro de Quadros will also make remarks at the event.

By bringing together a diverse group of scientists, advocates and global health experts, Sabin will foster a thought-provoking discussion about best practices, lessons learned and prospects for the future of global health.  With executive leadership from the NGO community, multilateral institutions, pharmaceutical industry, and academia, attendees will hear how stakeholders from various vantage points – from the NGO, private and public sectors – are uniquely positioned to address pressing global health challenges across the world.

This event is open to the public; to register, please visit the event registration page.

How a Nigerian General Became an Advocate for Stopping River Blindness

Lieutenant General (Ret.) Theophilus Yakubu (TY) Danjuma knows river blindness firsthand. As a Nigerian who grew up in a country with one of the highest rates of river blindness (also known as onchocerciasis) infection in the world, he has not only witnessed the devastation this disease can bring to families and communities, but has also suffered from the disease himself.

River blindness produces rashes, skin lesions and severe skin inflammation that can make the skin change color and lose elasticity. People suffering from the disease often face daily social humiliation and isolation, and infected children struggle to pay attention in school because of intense itching. River blindness, however, is aptly named. Its most debilitating symptoms are severe visual impairment and irreversible blindness.

General Danjuma’s experience with this disease began in the 1960s. While leading a company of soldiers in Nigeria, he was bitten by the Simulium black fly that transmits the worm larvae that cause river blindness. For two years, the larvae spread throughout his body, maturing into adult worms and releasing bacteria that eventually trigger an immune system response. He awoke one morning with swollen eyes and itchy, inflamed skin. General Danjuma successfully underwent two weeks of treatment and experienced no lasting symptoms, but says he has never forgotten the sight of his own skin sample under the microscope at the local clinic. He still shivers at the memory of tiny worms swimming in and out of view under the lens.

General Danjuma is the Grand Patron of an important NGO based in Jos, in Northern Nigeria. The NGO, The Mission to Save the Helpless, better known by its acronym MITOSATH” is well known to the health team in the Africa Region as an important partner of African Programme for Onchocerciasis Control (APOC). MITOSATH is also among the most active NGOs in Nigeria contributing to the control of river blindness other neglected tropical diseases.

Controlling River Blindness in Africa: Setting an Example

A young boy leads a man impacted by river blindness. Photo by Olivier Asselin.














When river blindness control programs were first implemented in the 1970s, up to half of all adults in some hard-hit communities had gone blind from the disease. This tragedy caused many Africans to abandon their ancestral homes and livelihoods; the economic losses were estimated at US$30 million. The first Onchocerciasis Control Programme focused primarily on spraying insecticide over infected areas in order to minimize the prevalence of the black fly, preventing transmission of the parasitic worms from person to person, and eventually incorporated treatment with Ivermectin, the drug that treats river blindness, when it became available.

With the help of the World Health Organization and the World Bank in 1995, this program was expanded and renamed the African Programme for Onchocerciasis Control (APOC). Rather than attempting to control the black fly population, APOC sought to control the parasitic worms in humans through community-directed treatment with Ivermectin in 19 countries. Treatment with Ivermectin successfully kills the worms in the people who have them, thereby disrupting transmission of the disease.

Merck & Co. donates Ivermectin to Nigeria (and other countries in need), and APOC trains volunteers to distribute the drug in communities. Today, APOC provides Ivermectin to more than 96 percent of endemic communities in Nigeria, reaching more than 23 million people. Until everyone is treated, however, the risks of re-infection and new outbreaks remain. River blindness is still present in most Nigerian states, including Taraba state where General Danjuma was born. The disease continues to deeply impact communities and the lifetime productivity of the 31 million Nigerians at risk.

Now a successful businessman and politician, General Danjuma’s personal experience with river blindness and the success of MITOSATH and APOC motivated him to donate US$1 million to the program in 2010. With his donation, he hopes to invigorate interest in public health challenges in rural Africa. General Danjuma noted that, “these are not the neglected diseases of tropical Africa, but rather the diseases of neglected people.”

General Danjuma’s crusade to raise the profile of rural health issues has already gained momentum. Following his example, in 2011, the government of Nigeria pledged an additional US$5 million to APOC to assist with its control efforts. General Danjuma hopes that other countries and the private sector will join the movement to eliminate this debilitating disease once and for all.


In March 2012, General Danjuma participated in a panel discussion at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Read our blog post on that event here.


Reading List 8/25/2010

A great new list of reads to get you through the week! Today we’re reading about a Lancet seminar on lymphatic filariasis and onchocerciasis, a great overview of drugs available to treat NTDs, Merck’s provision of funds to fight against HIV/AIDS in Botswana, and the use of roundworm in a new groundbreaking study. Enjoy!

Lancet seminar: lymphatic filariasis and onchocerciasis, NeLM news service
Medications to Treat Human Worms, Amy O’Connell, Live Strong
Merck Provides New Funding to Fight HIV/AIDS in Botswana, PharmaLive
Study of cell division sheds light on special mechanism in egg cells, Lab Spaces

New Drug for Chagas Disease?

By: Alanna Shaikh

Right now, two drugs are approved for Chagas disease, benznidazole and nifurtimox. Count them. 1. 2. Doesn’t exactly insure confidence, does it? Also, as an added bonus, they’re 30 years old, which means that there is plenty of resistance to the drugs. They only work in 60-85% of adults, although, thankfully, they do better on children. It’s clear, though, that in terms of Chagas treatment, there is really nowhere to go but up.

That’s why this press release is such good news. “Merck today announced plans to initiate a Phase II investigational proof-of-concept clinical study to evaluate its oral antifungal agent posaconazole for the treatment of chronic Chagas disease.” (Don’t worry, I’ll translate.)

After spending some quality time with Wikipedia and google. I can tell you that a proof of concept study is what they do to determine that a drug can work. It’s the small, brief, study with carefully selected participants that comes before a bigger clinical trial. So, if posaconazole turns out to be effective in this small study, it will go on to broader testing.

The proposed study will be randomized and placebo controlled. It will test the effectiveness of 60 days of posaconazole treatment in 160 adults in South America.* It will follow the participants for 360 days. They’ll test the participants’ blood for the presence of the parasite that causes Chagas disease.


If posaconazole is effective in the proof on concept study, it will go on to full trials. That will mean more participants in more locations, and possibly longer periods of time. However, posaconazole is already on the market for other diseases. It is being used in the US to treat Aspergillus and Candida infections in immunocompromised patients 13 years and older. That means we already have safety data on the drug. We don’t have to do a million studies to see if it has horrible side effects. We just have to find out if it really works for Chagas disease.

So, maybe we’re not too far away from a third drug for Chagas disease. That’s a 50% increase in available treatments. Everybody cross their fingers and knock on wood.

It also makes me wonder – how many existing drugs might work on other NTDs? If there is a drug that works for Chagas already in use, what else might be out there? Are we going to find out that Tamiflu works on encephalitis? Prilosec for elephantiasis? Triclosan for trachoma?

Probably we’re not going to find an NTD miracle cure in the bathroom cabinet. But I am awfully glad for the reminder that pharmaceutical companies are still hard at work seeking treatments, even for neglected tropical diseases.

*This is a great example of drug research done right in the developing world. They’re testing the drug in South America, which is also where the drug will have the most impact. That’s not medical exploitation. It’s responsible testing and responsible medicine.

Alanna Shaikh is an expert in health consulting, writing about global health for UN Dispatch and about international relief and development at Blood & Milk. She also serves as a frequently contributing blogger to ‘End the Neglect.’