The Carlos Slim Foundation has contributed $2.6 million to the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine for the Chagas Vaccine Initiative, in an ongoing effort to fight one of the major neglected tropical diseases in Latin America.

Chagas disease, also known as American trypanosomiasis, is found in the poorest areas of the Americas. It is a vector-borne disease, caused by the single celled parasite called Trypanosoma cruzi, which is transmitted to humans by triatomine “kissing” bugs.

The disease, which affects millions of people in the American continent, as well as in the U.S., is an important cause of heart disease in Latin America. Today, between 5 and 10 million people live with Chagas disease in this region, including more than 1 million who suffer severe heart disease known as Chagasic cardiomyopathy. It is estimated that one in four people infected with Trypanosoma cruzi will go on to develop heart complications.

“Together with the Carlos Slim Foundation and a consortium of partners in Mexico and elsewhere, including the Autonomous University of Yucatán and the Center for Research and Advanced Studies of Mexico (CINVESTAV), we are working to develop an innovative therapeutic vaccine to prevent the dreaded cardiac complications of Chagas disease, which include heart conduction disturbances, aneurysms and even sudden death,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor and president of the Sabin Vaccine Institute, in a statement.

“This first vaccine may be used alongside existing medicines, such as benznidazole, in order to improve its performance and the clinical outcome of the disease. Because transmission of Chagas disease now also occurs in Texas, we believe that is a neglected tropical disease vaccine that will be used both here and abroad,” added Dr. Hotez.

The Chagas Vaccine Initiative was launched in 2010 with the goal of accelerating Chagas disease vaccine research and development to establish the feasibility of developing and testing a therapeutic vaccine while enhancing and strengthening research and development capacity in Mexico.

Through the Sabin Vaccine Institute and Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development—a Product Development Partnership—researchers at Baylor have been working for the last five years to develop and test a bivalent vaccine for the treatment of chronic Chagas disease.

The goal for the next phase is to accelerate one of the lead vaccine candidate antigens into a regulatory filing and begin a first-in-human study, while continuing to enhance biotechnology capacity in Mexico.

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