Lymphatic filariasis and onchocerciasis are debilitating diseases caused by parasitic filarial nematodes infecting around 150 million people throughout the tropics with more than 1.5 billion at risk. As with other neglected tropical diseases, classical drug-discovery and development is lacking and a 50 year programme of macrofilaricidal discovery failed to deliver a drug which can be used as a public health tool. Recently, antibiotic targeting of filarial Wolbachia, an essential bacterial symbiont, has provided a novel drug treatment for filariasis with macrofilaricidal activity, although the current gold-standard, doxycycline, is unsuitable for use in mass drug administration (MDA). The anti-Wolbachia (A·WOL) Consortium aims to identify novel anti-Wolbachia drugs, compounds or combinations that are suitable for use in MDA. Development of a Wolbachia cell-based assay has enabled the screening of the approved human drug-pharmacopoeia (∼2600 drugs) for a potential repurposing. This screening strategy has revealed that approved drugs from various classes show significant bacterial load reduction equal to or superior to the gold-standard doxycycline, with 69 orally available hits from different drug categories being identified. Based on our defined hit criteria, 15 compounds were then selectively screened in a Litomosoides sigmodontis mouse model, 4 of which were active. These came from the tetracycline, fluoroquinolone and rifamycin classes. This strategy of repurposing approved drugs is a promising development in the goal of finding a novel treatment against filariasis and could also be a strategy applicable for other neglected tropical diseases.
Keywords: Anti-Wolbachia Consortium (A·WOL); Drug discovery; Filariasis; Library screening; Pharmacopoeia; Wolbachia.