Africa’s new anti-malarial drug shows promising test results, attracts international interest

Groundbreaking work by the University of Cape Town Drug Discovery and Development Centre, in the research and development of a potential single-dose cure for malaria, has attracted international interest, funding and scientists from around the world. The compound is said to disrupt the malaria parasite’s life cycle in animal models, effectively destroying it. Researchers say they are optimistic the drug will be effective in fighting malaria in future.

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA (REUTERS) – The University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Drug Discovery and Development Centre, H3D, says tests on a potential single-dose cure for malaria are encouraging and have attracted international interest, funding as well as scientists from around the world.

Scientists here say the drug kills resistant malaria parasites instantly, potentially charting a new path in the eradication of malaria.

MMV048, the promising new compound researched by an international team led by H3D and selected for development in 2012, is very potent. It was highly successful in curing malaria in preclinical studies and may be able to block transmission to humans and contribute to the eradication of malaria.

Kelly Chibale, a professor of organic chemistry says the study started three years ago has already had a major impact.

“So what we have done in the last three years since the announcement was in 2012 we have taken this to phase one human clinic trials and of course there is a long way to go, the potential that this compound offers is more than just the potential to impact Malaria control but also the potential to impact eradication because it is able to block transmission,” said Chibale.

Carried by the female anopheles mosquito, the parasites that cause malaria have perplexed scientists for generations.

Malaria is caused by a parasite carried in the saliva of mosquitoes. Conventional treatments that rely on multiple drugs are effective but only until the parasites develop a resistance to them.

This is the first molecule from Africa to undergo clinical trials in UCT’s Phase I Clinical Trials facility.

Since 2000, global efforts to combat malaria have succeeded in reducing the number of deaths by 47 percent. This has largely been due to the use of bed nets, indoor residual spraying and artemisinin-based combination therapies.

“So in a nut shell we have taken it to phase-one clinic trials, we have done extensive safety testing as a requirement and then thirdly we have looked at the process of manufacturing the drug on a large scale,” said Chibale.

The malaria programme is being conducted in collaboration with Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV), a not-for-profit drug development foundation based in Geneva, Switzerland. MMV048 was selected for further development by MMV’s expert scientific advisory committee in July, 2012.

Over the past 3 years, MMV, H3D and partners have conducted pre-clinical and extensive safety studies on the molecule, and have taken it into the first trial in humans. During this period, the viability of developing a process to manufacture the drug on a large scale has also been explored and a back-up drug is being developed.

While there have been significant reductions in the numbers of people falling ill and dying from malaria, it still kills around 600,000 a year – most of them children in the poorest parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

“This is the last line of defense against the parasite so although there has been improvement and a good outlook for the reduction in the number of deaths this could very easily swing in the other direction and the situation could actually get worse if we do not address resistance by coming up with new drugs that are able to circumvent the current drug resistance but also new drugs that offer the possibility to eradicate Malaria in the future,” said Chibale.

Chibale said H3D’s successful experience in the field of malaria had attracted a range of local and global partners as well as foreign direct investment, while scientists from the USA, Europe, India and Africa had joined the program since the breakthrough was announced. This includes five experienced senior scientists from the Western pharmaceutical industry.

Drug companies making existing malaria drugs include Novartis and Sanofi, both of which have special programs in place to make their products more affordable.