Single-dose malaria drug expected

Scientists in Europe have discovered a new compound that could treat malaria and protect people from the disease in a single dose.

The compound, referred to as DDD107498, was developed at Dundee University’s Drug Discovery Unit in the UK, and the not-for-profit public-private partnership, Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV).

“DDD107498 is an exciting compound since it holds the promise to not only treat but also protect these vulnerable populations,” said Dr Kevin Read, joint leader of the project in the study published in the Nature journal.

The university and MMV have been working together since 2009 to identify new treatments for the disease. The project was initiated by testing a collection of about 4,700 compounds at the Drug Discovery Unit to see if any would kill the malaria parasite.

Malaria transmission occurs in all six World Health Organisation regions. Globally, an estimated 3.3 billion people are at risk of being infected with malaria and developing the disease, and 1.2 billion are at high risk (greater than one in 1,000 chance of getting malaria in a year).

Latest estimates show that 198 million cases of malaria occurred globally in 2013, leading to 584,000 deaths. The burden is heaviest in Africa, where an estimated 90 per cent of all malaria deaths occur, and in children aged under five years, who account for 78 per cent of all deaths.

“DDD107498 was developed from a screening programme against blood-stage malaria parasites its molecular target has been identified as translation elongation factor 2 (eEF2),” said the researchers. “This discovery of eEF2 as a viable antimalarial drug target opens up new possibilities for drug discovery.”

The development of the compound, which is currently being tested for safety ahead of human clinical trials, will give a ray of hope to millions in view of the concerns about strains of malaria that are resistant to current treatment.

Recently, scientists discovered new drug-resistant strains of the parasite in western Cambodia that are genetically different from others around the world. The organisms can withstand treatment by artemisinin — a frontline drug in the fight against malaria.

“There is concern that the drug-resistant strains could spread, making the fight against malaria even more difficult, if scientists do not come up with new drugs,” said Nairobi-based consultant physician John Ogola.

Artemisinin is widely used in many parts of the world against malaria and can treat an infection in a few days when it is used in combination with other drugs.

“We have seen a trend in the past few decades where the world’s most effective drugs against malaria have been rendered useless one after the other due to the parasite’s ability to mutate and develop resistance,” said Dr Ogola. “It is the reason we should all be concerned.”

East African scientists are also working on various malaria projects aimed at fighting the deadly disease.

Recently, researchers at the Nairobi-based International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology (Icipe) discovered a new way to control the disease in Africa. 

Icipe researchers said a naturally occurring chemical, cedrol, found in mosquito breeding sites near Lake Victoria that attracts pregnant malaria-transmitting mosquitoes, could be used in traps to “attract and kill” the female mosquito, before it lays eggs, hence preventing reproduction.

The research team discovered that wild mosquitoes were three times more likely to be caught in traps baited with cedrol than in traps with lake water alone. The scientists will now be seeking ways to use cedrol in traps as part of an “attract and kill” strategy to complement current vector control methods.