Protozoan parasites cause serious human and zoonotic infections, including life-threatening diseases such as malaria, African and American trypanosomiasis, and leishmaniasis. These diseases are no more common in the developed world, but together they still threaten about 40% of the world population (WHO estimates). Mortality and morbidity are high in developing countries, and the lack of vaccines makes chemotherapy the only suitable option. However, available antiparasitic drugs are hampered by more or less marked toxic side effects and by the emergence of drug resistance. As the main prevalence of parasitic diseases occurs in the poorest areas of the world, the interest of the pharmaceutical companies in the development of new drugs has been traditionally scarce. The establishment of public-private partnerships focused on tropical diseases is changing this situation, allowing the exploitation of the technological advances that took place during the past decade related to genomics, proteomics, and in silico drug discovery approaches. These techniques allowed the identification of new molecular targets that in some cases are shared by different parasites. In this review we outline the recent developments in the fields of protease and topoisomerase inhibitors, antimicrobial and cell-penetrating peptides, and RNA interference. We also report on the rapidly developing field of new vectors (micro and nano particles, mesoporous materials) that in some cases can cross host or parasite natural barriers and, by selectively delivering new or already in use drugs to the target site, minimize dosage and side effects.
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