The importance of being parasiticidal… an update on drug development for the treatment of alveolar echinococcosis.Food Waterborne Parasitol. 2019 Jun; 15:e00040.FW
The lethal disease alveolar echinococcosis (AE) is caused by the metacestode stage of the fox tapeworm Echinococcus multilocularis. Current chemotherapeutical treatment of AE relies on albendazole and mebendazole, with the caveat that these compounds are not parasiticidal. Drugs have to be taken for a prolonged period of time, often life-long, which can cause adverse effects and reduces the patients' quality of life. In some individuals, benzimidazoles are inactive or cause toxicity, leading to treatment discontinuation. Alternatives to benzimidazoles are urgently needed. Over the recent years, in vivo and in vitro models for low-to-medium throughput drug discovery against AE have been set in place. In vitro drug tests include the phosphoglucose-isomerase (PGI) assay to measure physical damage induced to metacestodes, and viability assays to assess parasiticidal activity against metacestodes and stem cells. In vitro models are also employed for studies on mechanisms of action. In vivo models are thus far based on rodents, mainly mice, and benefits could be gained in future by comparative approaches in naturally infected dogs or captive monkeys. For the identification of novel drugs against AE, a rare disease with a low expected market return, drug-repurposing is the most promising strategy. A variety of chemically synthesized compounds as well as natural products have been analyzed with respect to in vitro and/or in vivo activities against AE. We here review and discuss the most active of these compounds including anti-infective compounds (benzimidazoles, nitazoxanide, amphotericin B, itraconazole, clarithromycin, DB1127, and buparvaquone), the anti-infective anti-malarials (artemisinin, ozonids, mefloquine, and MMV665807) and anti-cancer drugs (isoflavones, 2-methoxyestradiol, methotrexate, navelbine, vincristine, kinase inhibitors, metallo-organic ruthenium complexes, bortezomib, and taxanes). Taking into account the efficacy as well as the potential availability for patients, the most promising candidates are new formulations of benzimidazoles and mefloquine. Future drug-repurposing approaches should also target the energy metabolism of E. multilocularis, in particular the understudied malate dismutation pathway, as this offers an essential target in the parasite, which is not present in mammals.