New anti-malaria compound packs a big punch

Anopheles Mosquito

A new treatment against malaria packs a big time double-whammy. Tests in mice show it can both kill the parasite and prevent it from spreading. And it requires only a single dose, making it harder for resistance to develop.

DDD107498, the compound’s name at the moment, is a potential game changer in the fight against the disease that killed 584,000 people in 2013.

“There is still some way to go before the compound can be given to patients. However we are very excited by the progress that we have made,” Ian Gilbert, of the University of Dundee and lead researcher into the compound.

Clinical trials are set to begin this year. If all goes well, the compound could hit the market in five years. But, there are some important advancements that need to be made before that can happen, said Colin Sutherland of the London School of Hygiene at Tropical Medicine to SciDevNet.

“There is a lot of work to be done before this can be formulated into a usable drug – and it still may fail at some stage – but this initial preclinical work is very encouraging,” said Sutherland.

The 198 million malaria cases in 2013 posed a major burden on people living in malaria-endemic parts of the world. Those places also happen to be home to many of the world’s poor people and developing countries. The emergence of new treatments and insecticide-treated bed nets helped cut malaria deaths by 47 percent since 2000.

Now, there are new challenges on the horizon. Chief among them is the emergence of drug-resistant malaria. In southeast Asia, malaria is showing signs of resistance to artemisinin the best cure for the most common form of malaria (P. falciparum). The World Health Organization and others are concerned that it may mimic the emergence of drug-resistant malaria seen in the 1970s and 1980s. New drugs can help stave off potential set-backs.

“The need for new antimalarial drugs is more urgent than ever before, with emerging strains of the parasite now showing resistance against the best available drugs,” said Dr. Michael Chew from the Wellcome Trust, a funder of the research and the Medicines for Malaria Venture. “The discovery of this new antimalarial agent, which has shown remarkable potency against multiple stages of the malaria lifecycle, is an exciting prospect in the hunt for viable new treatments.”

A paper published by the authors in the journal Nature showed that the compound could kill off malaria without damaging human cells.

The plan for the compound is for it to be used alongside existing antimalarial drugs. It is expected to cost $1 per dose, in line with costs for current treatments.

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.