University students from India, the UK and the US will collaborate on a first of-its-kind research and development project aimed at discovering potential drugs for patients living with neglected diseases like kala-azar.

The Open Synthesis Network (OSN) project was launched by non-profit research and development organisation Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi) this week. It involves collaboration between 25 under-graduate and master’s students in chemistry from five participating universities.

“Through the network, students contribute to a real-life medicinal chemistry project with the potential to make a concrete impact with the results of their lab work,” said Ben Perry, senior discovery manager at DNDi.

“Instead of training on more traditional synthetic targets such as aspirin or paracetamol, students can instead produce samples of new chemicals relevant to DNDi’s cutting edge neglected disease research.”

“students contribute to a real-life medicinal chemistry project with the potential to make a concrete impact.”

The network comprises the Shobhaben Pratapbhai Patel School of Pharmacy & Technology Management at Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies (NMIMS) in Mumbai, the Indian Institute of Chemical Technology (IICT) in Hyderabad; Imperial College London; Northeastern University in Boston; and Pace University in New York City.

All work generated by OSN will be published in the public domain in real-time and remain free of intellectual property.

Students will work on compounds that kill leishmania donovani and leishmania infantum, the parasites that cause visceral leishmaniasis – an illness that kills up to 30,000 people yearly.

“New and novel initiatives such as this train students to an exceptionally high level,” said David Mountford, senior teaching fellow with medicinal chemistry at Imperial College.

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