The Pathogen Box

Catalysing neglected disease drug discovery

Screening of the ‘Pathogen Box’ identifies an approved pesticide with major anthelmintic activity against the barber's pole worm

28 July 2016

Sarah Preston, Yaqing Jiao, Abdul Jabbar, Sean L. McGee, Benoît Laleu, Paul Willis, Timothy N.C. Wells, Robin B. Gasser

International Journal for Parasitology: Drugs and Drug Resistance

DOI: 10.1016/j.ijpddr.2016.07.004


There is a substantial need to develop new medicines against parasitic diseases via public-private partnerships. Based on high throughput phenotypic screens of largely protozoal pathogens and bacteria, the Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV) has recently assembled an open-access ‘Pathogen Box’ containing 400 well-curated chemical compounds. In the present study, we tested these compounds for activity against parasitic stages of the nematode Haemonchus contortus (barber's pole worm). In an optimised, whole-organism screening assay, using exsheathed third-stage (xL3) and fourth-stage (L4) larvae, we measured the inhibition of larval motility, growth and development of H. contortus. We also studied the effect of the ‘hit’ compound on mitochondrial function by measuring oxygen consumption.

Among the 400 Pathogen Box compounds, we identified one chemical, called tolfenpyrad (compound identification code: MMV688934) that reproducibly inhibits xL3 motility as well as L4 motility, growth and development, with IC50 values ranging between 0.02 and 3 μM. An assessment of mitochondrial function showed that xL3s treated with tolfenpyrad consumed significantly less oxygen than untreated xL3s, which was consistent with specific inhibition of complex I of the respiratory electron transport chain in arthropods. Given that tolfenpyrad was developed as a pesticide and has already been tested for absorption, distribution, excretion, biotransformation, toxicity and metabolism, it shows considerable promise for hit-to-lead optimisation and/or repurposing for use against H. contortus and other parasitic nematodes. Future work should assess its activity against hookworms and other pathogens that cause neglected tropical diseases.

View the full article on the Science Direct website.