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Updates on a novel approach to fighting schistosomiasis transmission

last modified Mar 29, 2018 03:24 PM
Theresa Maier, WD Armstrong Scholar and CEB PhD Candidate
Updates on a novel approach to fighting schistosomiasis transmission

Members of last year’s winning team of the Merck Innovation Cup 2016 (from left to right): Erica Namigai, coach Gabriele Disselhoff, and Theresa Maier.

Last year, WD Armstrong scholar and CEB student Theresa Maier was chosen to attend the highly selective Merck Innovation Cup, the most prestigious Pharma competition globally. Each year 30 participants, including PhD students, MBAs and Postdocs, from all over the world are invited to Germany to work on novel solutions that address areas of need in medication development.

Theresa and her team were fortunate to win the Merck Innovation Cup in 2016, supported and sponsored by Merck Global Health (Merck Global Health Institute). The team was awarded 20,000 € and the opportunity to pursue their innovative idea hired as external consultants to Merck KGaA Darmstadt/Merck Global Health Institute.

Their project was focusing on schistosomiasis, a widespread neglected tropical disease caused by a water-borne parasite. Schistosomiasis affects 260 Million people globally, with a total of 800 Million at risk - half of which are children. Despite Merck’s commitment in donating 250 Million tablets of Praziquantel per year, the medication of choice for the treatment of infected individuals, an estimated 280,000 people die each year as a result of the chronic inflammation caused in the human body. Theresa’s team suggested a novel approach to controlling schistosomiasis transmission by targeting the parasite’s snail vector, and thereby provided an idea that has the potential to not only help decrease the rate of infection, but also to potentially eliminate the disease. 

On 18 June 2017, Theresa and her team were invited to the Innovation Cup 2017 to present their project’s progress – with remarkable results: They have established international collaborations on two continents with academic institutions such as Stanford, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, as well as with international networks for tropical diseases. The collaborative nature of the project enabled the 5-member team and their coach to hire a postdoc, to apply for external funding, and to be invited to various Merck internal and external events. One of these events is the “ISNTD Bites 2017” conference organised by the “International Society for Neglected Tropical Diseases (ISNTD)” on 19 July in London, during which Theresa will give a conference talk on behalf of her team.

“It is such a privilege to be able to pursue our novel approach to address the global burden of schistosomiasis. We owe thanks and gratitude to Merck for their generous support, as well as to all those who provide assistance and guidance in moving our project forward. The Merck Innovation Cup truly illustrates what can be developed within a week’s time: an idea that can grow with passion and dedication into an international, multi-institutional project with the potential to make a difference to millions of people around the world.” – Theresa

Merck Innovation Cup:

Group photo of the Merck Innovation Cup 2016. Our CEB PhD student and WD Armstrong Scholar Theresa Maier and her team won the competition in 2016.
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