Discovery of novel, orally bioavailable, antileishmanial compounds using phenotypic screening

PLoS Negl Trop Dis. 2017 Dec 29;11(12):e0006157. doi: 10.1371/journal.pntd.0006157. eCollection 2017 Dec.


Leishmaniasis is a parasitic infection that afflicts approximately 12 million people worldwide. There are several limitations to the approved drug therapies for leishmaniasis, including moderate to severe toxicity, growing drug resistance, and the need for extended dosing. Moreover, miltefosine is currently the only orally available drug therapy for this infection. We addressed the pressing need for new therapies by pursuing a two-step phenotypic screen to discover novel, potent, and orally bioavailable antileishmanials. First, we conducted a high-throughput screen (HTS) of roughly 600,000 small molecules for growth inhibition against the promastigote form of the parasite life cycle using the nucleic acid binding dye SYBR Green I. This screen identified approximately 2,700 compounds that inhibited growth by over 65% at a single point concentration of 10 μM. We next used this 2700 compound focused library to identify compounds that were highly potent against the disease-causing intra-macrophage amastigote form and exhibited limited toxicity toward the host macrophages. This two-step screening strategy uncovered nine unique chemical scaffolds within our collection, including two previously described antileishmanials. We further profiled two of the novel compounds for in vitro absorption, distribution, metabolism, excretion, and in vivo pharmacokinetics. Both compounds proved orally bioavailable, affording plasma exposures above the half-maximal effective concentration (EC50) concentration for at least 12 hours. Both compounds were efficacious when administered orally in a murine model of cutaneous leishmaniasis. One of the two compounds exerted potent activity against trypanosomes, which are kinetoplastid parasites related to Leishmania species. Therefore, this compound could help control multiple parasitic diseases. The promising pharmacokinetic profile and significant in vivo efficacy observed from our HTS hits highlight the utility of our two-step phenotypic screening strategy and strongly suggest that medicinal chemistry optimization of these newly identified scaffolds will lead to promising candidates for an orally available anti-parasitic drug.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Animals
  • Antiprotozoal Agents / administration & dosage
  • Antiprotozoal Agents / adverse effects
  • Antiprotozoal Agents / chemistry
  • Antiprotozoal Agents / pharmacokinetics*
  • Cell Line
  • Chemistry, Pharmaceutical
  • Drug Discovery
  • Drug Evaluation, Preclinical / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Leishmania mexicana / drug effects*
  • Leishmania mexicana / growth & development
  • Leishmaniasis, Cutaneous / drug therapy*
  • Leishmaniasis, Cutaneous / parasitology
  • Macrophages / parasitology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Phenotype


  • Antiprotozoal Agents