Leprosy, also known as Hansen's Disease, is one of the most ancient diseases known to humans. Although the World Health Organization declared leprosy to be under control in many previously endemic countries, most experts agree that current approaches to treating the disease are not sufficient to eliminate the disease as a public health problem. Currently, 1.6 billion people are considered at risk of exposure to leprosy, while over 800 new cases occur every day.
The Infectious Disease Research Institute (IDRI) has been awarded a $1 million grant from Renaissance Health Service Corporation (RHSC) and its Research and Data Institute, as the founding sponsor of IDRI's efforts to eliminate the disease of leprosy. The funding will support IDRI's development of a diagnostic to identify early infection of the disease, as well as an effective vaccine to provide long-term protection to those who are most at risk. These new tools, along with currently available drugs to treat people who are infected, will be the basis of the leprosy elimination campaign.
"We are very pleased to be supporting IDRI in its critically important and novel efforts toward the elimination of leprosy in the world," says Nancy E. Hostetler, senior vice president of corporate and public affairs for RHSC. "Although leprosy is widely known, it is also widely ignored. We believe it is tragic that this disease continues to affect millions of people, and take pride in being the founding sponsor of the campaign aimed at finally eliminating it."
Although currently drug therapy during the early stages of the disease reduces its progression and spread, poor diagnostics and lack of access to regular health care often mean that many people who develop leprosy are treated too late, after disfigurement and transmission to others has already occurred. IDRI is nearing the development and licensure of a novel, inexpensive and effective diagnostic that will detect early stages of the disease in a person before they develop clinical symptoms.
Additionally, current leprosy programs are focused solely on detection and treatmentnot prevention. Development of a successful vaccine is critical to leprosy elimination efforts. Toward this end, IDRI has identified the largest panel of M. leprae antigens that are relevant to human disease, which will lead to the components necessary for an effective vaccine. IDRI has also refined a system for testing vaccine candidates and is working with partners, such as the American Leprosy Mission and national health centers around the world, to develop and assess vaccine efficacy.
"We are extremely thankful for Renaissance's vision and support in providing critical funding to develop a novel diagnostic tool, and the launch of an aggressive leprosy elimination program," says Steven G. Reed, PhD, IDRI founder, president, and CSO. "The long-term vision of this partnership is to eradicate leprosy from the 24 countries in which it remains endemic, eliminating the disease once and for all."