An estimated 8 million persons, mainly in Latin America, are infected with Trypanosoma cruzi, the etiologic agent of Chagas disease. Existing antiparasitic drugs for Chagas disease have significant toxicities and suboptimal effectiveness, hence new therapeutic strategies need to be devised to address this neglected tropical disease. Due to the high research and development costs of bringing new chemical entities to the clinic, we and others have investigated the strategy of repurposing existing drugs for Chagas disease. Screens of FDA-approved drugs (described in this paper) have revealed a variety of chemical classes that have growth inhibitory activity against mammalian stage Trypanosoma cruzi parasites. Aside from azole antifungal drugs that have low or sub-nanomolar activity, most of the active compounds revealed in these screens have effective concentrations causing 50% inhibition (EC50's) in the low micromolar or high nanomolar range. For example, we have identified an antihistamine (clemastine, EC50 of 0.4 µM), a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (fluoxetine, EC50 of 4.4 µM), and an antifolate drug (pyrimethamine, EC50 of 3.8 µM) and others. When tested alone in the murine model of Trypanosoma cruzi infection, most compounds had insufficient efficacy to lower parasitemia thus we investigated using combinations of compounds for additive or synergistic activity. Twenty-four active compounds were screened in vitro in all possible combinations. Follow up isobologram studies showed at least 8 drug pairs to have synergistic activity on T. cruzi growth. The combination of the calcium channel blocker, amlodipine, plus the antifungal drug, posaconazole, was found to be more effective at lowering parasitemia in mice than either drug alone, as was the combination of clemastine and posaconazole. Using combinations of FDA-approved drugs is a promising strategy for developing new treatments for Chagas disease.
Planer, J.D.; Hulverson, M.A.; Arif, J.A.; Ranade, R.M.; Don, R.; Buckner, F.S. Synergy Testing of FDA-Approved Drugs Identifies Potent Drug Combinations against Trypanosoma cruzi. PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases (2014) 8 (7) e2977. [DOI: 10.1371/journal.pntd.0002977]