Accelerating drug discovery for neglected tropical diseases

7/6/2018 3:50:06 PM

People in the U.S. just finished celebrating the Fourth of July holiday with BBQs and fun in the sun. Although a few pesky mosquitoes may have affected their outdoor festivities, the revelers probably didn’t worry about contracting a deadly vector-borne disease, such as malaria or dengue, because the risk here is low.

But a single mosquito bite can have serious consequences for the billions of people around the world at high-risk of acquiring debilitating or deadly tropical infections, including neglected tropical diseases.

NTDs encompass a subset of tropical infections (e.g., dengue fever, sleeping sickness, river blindness) that disparately affect low-income people living in developing tropical and subtropical regions and where public-health resources are limited.

R&D focused on the prevention and treatment of NTDs historically has been constrained due to a number of factors, such as the low return-on-investment for pharmaceutical companies. However, more work is needed to address this disparity, reduce disease burden and improve global health. Luckily, researchers like Michael Pollastri, professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Northeastern University, are forging new partnership models to accelerate NTD drug discovery.

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to listen to Pollastri present an American Chemical Society webinar on “Creating New Models to Combat Neglected Disease through Industry, Government and Public–Private Partnerships.” A major takeaway message from his talk is that NTD drug discovery will require coordinated efforts among the public and private sectors, in addition to creative funding mechanisms. The Uniting to Combat Neglected Tropical Diseases is a prime example of this. The international coalition is working to control or eliminate 10 NTDs, as outlined in the London Declaration on NTDs.

Such partnerships enable the pooling and sharing of resources to advance drug research, which also creates job opportunities in this area. For this week’s job roundup, we looked into open positions related to combating NTDs and other tropical diseases. Job searches were performed across generic job boards with the keywords of “neglected tropical disease” as well as with the names of individual NTDs.

I also looked at job openings with a few organizations that Pollastri mentioned in his webinar as collaborators. A full list of collaborators is listed in the slides linked to above. The list of partners on each of his collaborator’s and related initiatives’ websites can serve as a good resource to identify potential employers for further job searches.  

Weekly jobs roundup

  • The Center for Vaccine Research at the University of Pittsburgh is hiring for a number of positions that include a professor/director (due Aug. 15), senior research technician (due Sept. 15) and research technician (due July 10). The center focuses on basic immunological research and development of novel human vaccines for a wide range of bacterial and viral pathogens, including NTD agents. See the job postings for details and qualifications needed.

  • The Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Tropical Medicine at The George Washington University (Washington, D.C.) has several open positions, including a postdoctoral scientist, senior research assistant and research associate. The department encompasses basic and translational research for HIV/AIDS and NTDs, with additional emphasis on policy and advocacy training in the global-health arena. These positions specifically involve research into the molecular parasitology of African trypanosomes. See the job postings for more information. No application deadlines are provided.

  • Mapp Biopharmaceutical, Inc. (San Diego), develops novel therapies for neglected and tropical infectious diseases for which there is an unmet global need. You may have seen the company previously featured in the news for its work on an experimental ebolavirus drug used to treat patients in the U.S. The company has a number of job openings currently listed on its website that include research associates and a clinical trials support specialist. See these listings for more details. No application deadlines are provided.

  • The Novartis Institute for Tropical Diseases, an independent institute within the Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research and located in Emeryville, Calif., is recruiting an investigator in the area of hepatocyte biology for work in malaria infection control. The researcher will characterize novel anti-parasitic drugs against the liver stages of Plasmodium species. Minimum qualifications include a Ph.D. in a relevant discipline and experience working with primary human hepatocytes or hepatoma cell lines as a disease model. No application deadline is provided.

  • The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, an independent population-health research center located at the University of Washington in Seattle, is recruiting for several researcher and postdoctoral positions in the area of NTDs. These positions involve using geostatistical modeling methods to track and identify epidemiological trends in NTDs worldwide. See the postings for more information. No application deadlines are provided.

  • The Task Force for Global Health, an Emory University affiliate located in Decatur, Ga., is seeking a senior program associate to coordinate operations for the Children Without Worms program. This is a global-health program dedicated to the control and prevention of soil-transmitted helminthiasis, which is an NTD targeted by the WHO for elimination as a public-health concern by 2020. Minimum qualifications include a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field and four years of program-management experience. No application deadline is provided.

  • The nonprofit BioVentures for Global Health (Seattle) manages the partnership hub of WIPO Re:Search, a program that promotes the sharing of intellectual property to advance diagnostics and drug development for tuberculosis, malaria and NTDs. The organization’s website lists an opening for a junior program associate to coordinate activities and communications for this hub. Minimum qualifications include a bachelor’s degree in a relevant science area and one to two years of work experience. This position has been advertised since March of this year, so I suggest reaching out to check on the hiring status.

  • Collaborative Drug Discovery, Inc., hosts a collaborative informatics platform (CDD Vault) for drug discovery that is being used for NTD initiatives. CDD has a number of job openings listed on its website in the areas of software engineering, marketing and sales, and grant writing. It seems these positions are located in the San Francisco Bay area. See the website for postings. No application deadlines are provided.

Donna Kridelbaugh is a contributor to the ASBMB Careers Blog. She holds an advanced degree in microbiology and is a former lab manager.   

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