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New Malaria Drug Possible


Despite decades of research by scientists around the world, malaria affects hundreds of millions of people and causes nearly one million deaths per year. Now a collaborative effort has resulted in a new compound that shows promise as a treatment for drug-resistant malaria.

Malaria-Deadly and Persistent

Malaria is caused by a parasite called Plasmodium, and two strains are responsible for the disease: P. falciparum and P. vivax. The parasite is transmitted via the bites of infected mosquitoes. Once in the human body, the parasites reproduce in the liver and infect red blood cells.

Most of the nearly one million people who die from malaria each year are younger than five years old, and 90 percent of the deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa. These victims are among the estimated 250 million people who develop the disease every year. Malaria is a health problem in more than 109 countries, 45 of which are in Africa.

Symptoms of malaria include fever, vomiting, and headache, and if not treated quickly, the disease can be deadly. In many parts of the world, however, the parasites have developed resistance to many of the available malaria medications.

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A Possible New Malaria Drug
Experts at the Novartis Institute for Tropical Diseases, along with those from the Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation, the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, and The Scripps Research Institute have named spiroindolone NITD609 as the antimalarial agent that is effective against both strains of the parasite that causes malaria.

To arrive at the possible new drug, scientists identified 275 compounds that are highly active against P. falciparum, then eliminated all but 17 after they did not meet certain standards. Of the remaining compound class, spiroindolones were found to have properties favorable for drug development, “as well as a mechanism of action distinct from the currently used therapies based on aminoquinolines and artemisinin derivatives,” explains Bryan Yeung, project team head at Novartis Institute for Tropical Disease.

This find was significant because, as Mark Fishman, president, Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research notes, “The parasite has demonstrated a frustrating ability to outwit new medicines, from quinine to today’s unsettling increased tolerance to artemisinin derivatives.”

If the ongoing regulatory pharmacological and safety evaluations prove favorable, the new compound could then enter Phase I human trials. Although there is still a long road ahead, Fishman remarks that Novartis is “delighted that our scientists could provide this potential new malaria therapy.”

Nets for Life Africa
Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research
World Health Organization