Worm infections (helminthiases) affect approximately 1.5 billion people worldwide, making them one of the most prevalent and persistent global health issues. Parasitic worms (helminths) are often transmitted through insect bites or contaminated soil in areas with limited access to clean water, sanitation, and healthcare.
Despite significant progress in preventing and controlling helminthiases, many existing drugs have proven problematic in terms of efficacy, treatment duration, and safety. Furthermore, chronic underinvestment in healthcare in developing countries has led to poor infrastructure and inadequately trained technical staff.
Therefore, developing novel treatment options for this subgroup of Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs), which include onchocerciasis (river blindness), loiasis (African eye worm), mansonellosis, and trichuriasis (whipworm infection), requires a multi-tiered approach.
The eWHORM project aims to bring together NTD research and clinical experts to establish the master protocol of an adaptive basket trial. This trial will enable the simultaneous evaluation of multiple diseases and multiple drug regimens, providing a deeper understanding of the complex disease biology in less time.
Figure 1: Overview basket trial
Project activities will be conducted in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Gabonese Republic, the Republic of Cameroon, and the United Republic of Tanzania. The objective is to provide efficacy studies and data to support the registration of oxfendazole (OXF) as a pan-nematode drug for treating several helminth diseases. This achievement would represent a significant leap in accomplishing two of WHO's goals: eliminating filarial and soil-transmitted helminth (STH) infections, and enhancing the capacity of endemic countries to address current and future health challenges.
Successful elimination programmes in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), however, require more than just clinical trials, improved drugs, and diagnostic tests. To address the disproportionately low number of biomedical and clinical researchers in LMICs and contribute to the development of future scientific leaders, the eWHORM project will promote and organise various activities. These initiatives will include short-term training modules, a mentorship programme, webinars, and a structured Master and PhD programme for candidates from SSA partner institutions. eWHORM's networks within endemic countries and the global health environment will maximise the return on investment and ensure that the necessary infrastructure and resources are available to support helminth-disease clinical trials in endemic countries.
Moreover, special emphasis will be placed on addressing gender imbalance across all project activities, from clinical studies to capacity-building programmes. This focus aims to reduce inequalities related to disease exposure, access to treatment, and career opportunities in science.