A new UC San Diego center is targeting an unmet need: parasitic infections hurting poor and underserved communities.

The Center for Anti-Parasitic Drug Discovery and Development includes 15 research and clinical faculty at UC San Diego, covering three schools and five departments.

There’s high need for the center because pharmaceuticals have little economic incentive to invest in drugs for such diseases, James McKerrow, dean of Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at UC San Diego and head of the new center, said in a news release.

Researchers are already, among other things, developing a chemical compound for the treatment of malaria; working with pharmaceutical companies on potential drugs for chagas disease and schistosomiasis; and leading a clinical trial in Bangladesh to potentially repurpose an arthritis drug for amebiasis and giardiasis.

The goal is to find compounds that both kill parasites while leaving human cells unscathed, which involves robotic screening technology. Promising candidates can be computationally and chemically optimized, with further testing in lab experiments and animal models.

Work is supported by UC San Diego Altman Clinical and Translational Research Institute, along with an undisclosed amount in seed funding from the UC San Diego Chancellor’s office.

According to the World Health Organization, global climate change will most likely hit hardest the communities at greatest risk for these diseases. Temperature and rainfall changes alter the patterns of insects transmitting disease-spreading parasites.