Getting a move on with malaria

University of Dundee, MMV researchers to develop antimalarial compound with potential for disease treatment, prevention

Kelsey Kaustinen
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DUNDEE, United Kingdom—Scientists at the University of Dundee, in partnership with the Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV), have announced that an antimalarial compound developed at the university’s Drug Discovery Unit has been selected by MMV to begin preclinical development. This was brought on by a positive recommendation of the compound by the MMV’s Expert Scientific Advisory Committee.
 
“Identifying a compound like this is no small feat,” Dr. Paul Willis, a drug discovery project director at MMV, commented in a statement. “It’s a great achievement, particularly given the exciting properties of the compound, which give it potential for use in the treatment, prevention and transmission-blocking of malaria.”
 
The Drug Discovery Unit at the University of Dundee seeks to address unmet medical needs with small-molecule drug discovery, and the team there has been working with MMV for the identification of potential malaria treatments. They began by screening one of the Drug Discovery Unit’s compound collections against the parasite that causes malaria.
 
Prof. Ian Gilbert, chair of Medicinal Chemistry at Dundee and a project leader, is also optimistic about this compound, noting that it has “impressive antimalarial properties,” such as the ability to offer transmission-blocking, the spread of the disease from infected individuals to others. Most impressively, the compound also “has potential for a single-dose treatment of malaria,” according to Gilbert.
 
“We are very excited by this compound, which belongs to a different chemical class to current antimalarial drugs. This compound will now undergo scale-up and further safety testing with a view to it entering human clinical trials within the next 18 months,” Dr. Kevin Read, co-project leader and head of drug metabolism and pharmacokinetics at Dundee, said in a press release.
 
This is not the only good news in the field of malaria lately. Back in December 2013, MMV and GlaxoSmithKline announced that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had granted Breakthrough Therapy designation to tafenoquine, an investigational medicine for the treatment and relapse prevention of Plasmodium vivax malaria, a neglected tropical disease and major cause of uncomplicated malaria. Tafenoquine was originally discovered in 1978 by scientists at the Walter Reed Army Institute, and is under development in a collaboration between MMV and GlaxoSmithKline, who are administering the compound as a single-dose treatment. A Phase 3 study of the compound is expected to begin sometime this year.
 
 
Work is also underway on the detection end of things. This past fall, scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology created an experimental microfluidic device capable of detecting early-stage malarial infection by streaming a single drop of blood across an electrode, which in turn measures a signal that distinguishes infected cells from uninfected cells.
 
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 97 countries had ongoing malaria transmission in 2013, with some 3.4 billion people at risk of malaria, 1.2 billion of whom are at high risk. In 2012, there were approximately 207 million cases of malaria, with roughly 627,000 deaths attributed to the disease. Ninety percent of all malaria deaths take place in sub-Saharan Africa, WHO notes on its website, with 77 percent of those deaths occurring in children under five years of age. In the years between 2000 and 2012, worldwide efforts have led to a reduction in malaria incidence rates of 29 percent globally, with a 45-percent reduction in the global mortality rate.
 
The University of Dundee has an ongoing dedication to the eradication of tropical diseases. In February 2013, the university announced that it would be creating a £6.5 million (approximately $10.8 million) facility for treatments for infectious diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis and African sleeping sickness.

Kelsey Kaustinen

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