Promising New Malaria Treatment Only Needs One Dose

For those who travel frequently and widely to malaria-infested tropical countries, this is good news. For years, the staple was a series of tablets which has since become less effective due to resistance. This new regime prevents infection in mice and disease transmission, too.

A single-dose treatment against malaria worked in mice to cure them of the disease. The drug also worked to block infection in healthy mice and to stop transmission, according to a study published in Nature today. The fact that the drug can act against so many stages of malaria is pretty new, but what’s even more exciting is the compound’s mode of action: it kills malaria in a completely new way, researchers say. The feature would make it a welcome addition to our roster of antimalarials — a roster that’s threatened by drug resistance.

Global_DVSMalaria is an infectious disease that’s transmitted through mosquito bites; it’s also a leading cause of death in a number of developing countries. Approximately 3.4 billion people live in areas where malaria poses a real threat. As a result, there were 207 million cases of malaria in 2012 — and 627,000 deaths.

To find this particular compound, researchers sifted through a library of about 4,700 compounds, testing them to see if they were capable of killing the malaria parasite in a lab setting. “We went through a lot of these cycles of testing and designing new compounds,” says Ian Gilbert, a medicinal chemist at the University of Dundee in the UK, and a co-author of the study. For now, that compound’s unwieldy name is DDD107498. It helped the mice evade infection with a single dose, but it’s unclear how long that effect would last in humans. Finally, the researchers looked at whether the compound could prevent the transmission from an infected mouse to a mosquito. The scientists noted a 91 percent reduction in infected mosquitoes.

infographics-06-en“What’s exciting about this molecule is obviously the fact that it has the ability to be a one-dose [drug], in combination with another molecule to cure blood stage malaria,” says Kevin Read, a drug researcher also at the University of Dundee and a co-author of the study. DDD107498 halts the production of proteins — which are necessary for the parasite’s survival. No other malaria drug does that right now. And at $1 per treatment, the price of the drug should fall “within the range of what’s acceptable,” he says.

Still, no drug is perfect. The data suggests that DDD107498 doesn’t kill malaria as quickly as some other drugs, and when the researchers tested it to see how long it might take for resistance to develop, the results weren’t as promising. However, that shouldn’t be the “deal-killer.” The compound is going through safety testing now. If everything goes well, it should hit human trials within the next year, Read says. Chances are, it will have to be used in combination with other malaria drugs, Gilbert says. “All anti-malarials are given in combination because it slows down resistance.” “Obviously it’s got a long way to go,” Read says.

By Arielle Duhaime-Ross. June 17, 2015