New Drug Compounds Against Wolbachia Bacteria

Discovering novel anti-Wolbachia targeted anti-filarial drugs to eliminate adult worms.
Academia or research institute 2
Intergovernmental Organizations and Multilaterals 1
  • Discover novel anti-Wolbachia targeted anti-filarial drugs to eliminate adult worms.

What are the health needs and challenges?

Wolbachia live inside the parasitic worms, known as filariae, that cause lymphatic filariasis and onchocerciasis, two infectious diseases that together affect more than 150 million people worldwide.

While current anti-filarial treatments are effective against larvae and microfilariae, they require many years of consistent, annual mass drug administration in a given endemic community in order to also successfully eliminate the adult worms.

Partnership activities and how they address needs and challenges

Anti-Wolbachia therapy is a new method of treatment that eradicates the adult worms that can cause filariasis by eliminating bacteria known as Wolbachia that live in the cells of their bodies. As filariae are dependent on these Wolbachia for growth, development, reproduction and survival, these worms can be effectively eradicated by first eliminating the Wolbachia inside them.

Anti-Wolbachia therapy is expected to lead to worm sterility and effective worm eradication, thereby reducing treatment timeframes and providing superior therapeutic outcomes compared to existing anti-filarial drugs. Further, as anti-Wolbachia programs are still in their infancy, this collaboration is expected to potentially provide a unique opportunity to make a significant contribution to communities affected by filariasis.

Eisai has entered into a collaboration with the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM) and the University of Liverpool to jointly identify new drugs effective against lymphatic filariasis and onchocerciasis (river blindness), both major types of filariasis. Under the collaboration, Eisai works with LSTM and the University of Liverpool to identify and develop novel drug candidates that efficiently eliminate the bacteria Wolbachia.

This approach has the potential to significantly reduce the timescale of elimination programs, to provide alternatives to existing treatments, and to deliver tools that can be used in areas where current approaches are failing or cannot be deployed. Doxycycline, an antibiotic, is believed to work in this way and proof of concept has already been established in human field trials, which showed excellent results although requiring four to six weeks of daily treatment and being unsuitable for administration to children and pregnant women.

Results and milestones

On February 2017 a candidate compound has been identified for this project. This compound is effective in eliminating Wolbachia in in vitro assays, it eliminates macrofilaria in in vivo animal models and has a desirable pharmacokinetic profile. The compound is being profiled for safety currently.

Geographic Reach
  • Global Commitment
Disease Area
  • Infectious and Parasitic Disease
See Disease Areas
Target Population
  • Children
  • Men
  • Women
  • Marginalized/indigenous people
  • People with low incomes
Partner organizations
Academia or research institute

Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine

University of Liverpool

Intergovernmental Organizations and Multilaterals

Global Health Innovative Technology (GHIT) Fund

Additional resources