Wyeth Pharmaceuticalshas announced clinical trials of moxidectin in three African countriesas a potential treatment for onchocerciasis, or river blindness – one ofthe leading infectious causes of blindness across Africa.

Moxidectin, which is the active ingredient in Fort Dodge’s equine worming Equest brands and its cattle/sheep wormer Cydectin, is being investigated for its potential to kill or sterilise the adult worms of Onchocerca volvulus, which cause onchocerciasis.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) announced the clinical trials during a joint workshop at the World Conference of Science Journalists in London on July 1. They will be conducted through the Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases (WHO/TDR) and will be executed by the WHO/TDR and Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, the parent company of Fort Dodge Animal Health.

River blindness is an infectious disease that threatens 100 million people across Africa. According to the WHO, the clinical trials – which are set to take place in Ghana, Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo over the next two and a half years – offer the hope that the disease can finally be wiped out.

River blindness has special significance for the WHO. The UN agency launched an eradication campaign in 1970 using insecticide to kill the blackflies that transmit the disease-causing worm larvae. The initiative came close but did not fully destroy the blight, which is depicted in a statue outside the WHO’s Geneva headquarters showing a young boy leading a blind elderly man with a stick.

Marc Snacken, European business manager for livestock at Fort Dodge, said: “It’s exciting news that moxidectin, which is already widely used to treat parasites in dogs, cats, horses, sheep and cattle, may have the potential to destroy the worms that cause river blindness, which is a debilitating disease affecting many millions of people in Africa.”

Helen Barnes, European business manager for equine, added: “Moxidectin, a second generation macrocyclic lactone is already recognised in the field of animal health for its high potency.

“It’s been demonstrated that it’s effective in controlling Onchocerca spp in horses with Fort Dodge’s moxidectin-based equine wormer, distributed in the United States under the brand name Quest already licensed to control a species of Onchocerca. In horses, the parasite is associated with causing ‘moon blindness’, a syndrome which, in acute cases, can lead to blindness. Fortunately, for horse owners in Europe, the incidence of Onchocerca spp. infection is rare.”

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